Versailles senior Kendall Reger was ready for the final cross country race of his high school career on Saturday in Jefferson City.
All the work in the offseason, medaling in every single race, earning All-Conference and All-District honors and setting a new school record of 16:55.63 in the process led him to one final race where he took on 170 of the best Class 2 runners in the state. After representing Versailles for the first time at state a season ago where he finished 72nd, Reger vastly improved his standing finishing 27th with a time of 17:42.57. The mark was 45 spots and 50 seconds better than last year’s performance and the senior narrowly missed out on All-State honors and a medal, reserved for the top 25, by less than a full second as Arcadia Valley’s Stephen Pursley took 25th with a time of 17:41.72.
“Last year it was all new and something I never experienced. Being the first from Versailles to experience it was also a little daunting,” Reger recalled. “This year I was more prepared mentally and there were not as much nerves so it was a much better race than last year.
“I was pretty satisfied and it would’ve been great to get a state medal, but I’m pleased with how I did and proud of the work I put in. It is a tough pill to swallow being the last race, but I went out the way I wanted to at the end of the season and made my coaches and parents proud,” he added.
Versailles coach Laura Piercy certainly did not dispute that assessment and did not hold back in conveying some of her emotion Saturday morning.
“Just the thought of being at state, you are among the best runners and one of those runners is from your team. It is a fantastic feeling to have a runner from your program at the highest level of competition,” the coach stated. “I found myself getting teary-eyed a few times during the day. They were tears of pride, joy and happiness for Kendall.”
The race did not exactly start out as planned with someone blowing an air horn and causing a restart, but Piercy said the senior came out strong in a race where the difference between 21st place and 28th place was a mere two seconds.
“He got off to a good start and I feel that was crucial. In that mass of runners, you worry about getting boxed in or jostled and losing your concentration,” the coach pointed out. “He was ready for it all and I think having his group restart benefited Kendall. It got any extra jitters out and his legs ready.”
However, it was hardly surprising that Reger qualified for his second straight state meet or that he vastly improved upon his performance. Good habits and his dedication to the sport enabled the senior to put himself in the position he was in.
“He got a lot of summer miles in so when practice officially started he was way ahead of everyone,” Piercy remarked. He makes sure he warms up, cools down and stretches properly at every practice. He is quite disciplined in his life choices staying away from soda, eating healthy and getting plenty of sleep. According to his parents, he is in bed by 8 o’clock most nights. He is proof that if you put in the work, you will get results.”
But his dedication went beyond how he treated his body as the senior noted how important it was to be mentally tough. Reger and other fall sports athletes participated in a character education class taught by Jason Ollison, who serves as the men’s basketball and baseball coach for the Tigers. According to Piercy, athletes set goals, talked about how to achieve them and discussed how to overcome obstacles and how to maximize effort.
“One thing I realized coaching cross country this season is how mentally tough runners have to be. When you step to that line and the gun goes off, it is all up to you and that is one area where I really noticed Kendall grow,” the coach said.
Reger felt like the class certainly paid off.
“The one thing I’ve been working with Coach Ollison about is the mental state and my mental game more than anything else. The physical training comes in handy, but you need a strong mind and I worked on that throughout the season,” he said. “I had a positive attitude, self-talk and worked my ay to move forward throughout the season. It was one of the most deciding factors on how I did Saturday.”
It may have been Reger’s final race for the Tigers, but Piercy is hoping his efforts will have lasting effects on the returners and those who will hit the course in the future. Reger is the young program’s only state qualifier, but there is something that can be learned from his example.
“I hope his work ethic and dedication have rubbed off on the returning runners. I hope they know and recognize all the effort and hard work he put in to have a very successful senior year,” she said. “Making it to state is difficult and if that is a goal, then they are going to have to put in the work just like Kendall.”
The senior took some time to leave a few parting words for his underclassmen teammates.
“Go into practice with a positive mentality that rubs off on the rest of the team. Work hard, have a good work ethic and have the will to go the extra mile and give it your all in practice,” he stated. “Really focus on your training, which also includes dieting, and just mentally focus a lot.”
The Tigers will lose Reger along with Juan Comstock and Gage Mayhew to graduation and Piercy said their help in providing advice and encouragement to the underclassmen and first-year runners will be missed. However, she also said there is plenty to look forward to with the return of Colbey Boicourt, Cylan Burns, Trent Hyman, Ricky Zago, Seth Newton, Keely Gustafson and Lauryn Shewmaker.
“That is a very solid group of runners,” the coach said of the boys. “For the girls, we look to have a healthy Keely and Lauryn. These girls are amazing runners and were hampered by injuries this season so when they get healthy watch out.
“A lot of the runners compete in winter and spring sports so that will help keep them active and in shape. Those that don’t will do some offseason running and for the summer, we will have summer runs again to increase mileage so we can start the new season where we left off this season,” the coach added.
The work to get ready for the 2018 season will soon begin.