Four meets, four wins for Chamberlain's Byers
After Ella Byers finished in 10th place at the Class A girls cross country state meet last year, the then-Chamberlain eighth-grader set even higher standards for herself.
"Last year, after my season, I decided I wanted to work harder," Byers said. "I wanted to work harder to improve as a runner."
The hard work appears to have paid off.
Four meets into the 2015 season, the Chamberlain freshman has four wins.
Byers won her first meet of the season—the Mitchell Invite on Aug. 28—with a time of 15 minutes, 56.12 seconds. She then went on to win the McCook Central/Montrose Invite on Sept. 1 with a time of 19:01.87, the Scotland Invite on Sept. 8 with a time of 18:59.00 and took home the title at the Chamberlain Invite on Thursday with a time of 18:33.73.
"I attribute her success early on this year to her summer training," Chamberlain head coach Garry Winter said. "She ran all summer and put on hundreds of miles."
Byers, whose father ran cross country in college and two older sisters ran cross country for Chamberlain, said the goals she set after last year's state meet pushed her during the summer.
"This summer, I had a lot higher milage during the day," Byers said. "I did interval work to help increase my speed and I had higher milage to increase my endurance."
Despite all of the extra work Byers put in during the summer, the young Chamberlain runner wasn't expecting four wins in her first four meets to start the season.
"It's awesome, I wasn't expecting to start like this," Byers said. "It's pretty exciting seeing my hard work pay off."
Winter said Byers really started to show promise as a top runner late in her eighth-grade season.
"She really started to come on late last year," Winter said. "She took 10th at the state meet and then worked hard all summer. She ran well in track, she's just a really hard worker."
Byers recorded a time of 15:26.89 at last year's state meet in Huron and earned All-State honors as an eighth grader.
Winter said he's been surprised at how easily Byers, who placed high in many races last year but didn't win any varsity races, has won her four races.
"The margin of victory has really stood out," Winter said. "She's been winning by a long margin."
Byers will face her toughest challenge this week at the Faulkton Invite on Wednesday in Faulkton. The freshman runner will face Ipswich's Macy Heinz, who is the defending Class B state champion.
"I think it's been a shock to her that she's doing so well," said Winter, who added Byers outruns the boys in practice. "She's always nervous before meets. She worries that she can't compete with the top runners, but we talk about it before each race and she belongs to run at the front."
Running in front of the pack has been a regular occurrence for Byers this season, but Byers said she still has bigger goals in front of her.
"I just have to try to keep pushing myself and stay humble," said Byers, who added she'd like to run cross country in college. "I need to keep working hard and not get burnt out. It's a hard sport to be dedicated to but I just want to keep working and not give up. I want to place pretty high at the state meet. I'd like to finish in the top-3 and just keep lowering my times throughout the season."
Byers said having the support of teammates, friends, coaches and family—especially her father—has given her an extra step this season.
"It's really awesome, they're all really encouraging," Byers said. "My dad helped me a lot during the summer to keep that drive and they all make sure that I'm keeping it up."
Byers won the Region 6A 1,600-meter race and took fourth place in the 3,200-meter run at the state track meet last spring.
Winter said he expects to continue to see Byers grow and develop into one of the state's top runners.
"Her goal is to win all of the meets this season," Winter said. "Winning state is a goal and she has this year. She has a reasonable chance to do that."