CHAMBERLAIN-Ella Byers was at the top of her game during the first few years of her cross-country career at Chamberlain High School. Byers placed in the top 10 of the Class A state meet three times by her sophomore year, including winning it all in 2015.
A pulmonary embolism sidelined Byers for the entire 2017 season, while a stress fracture at the end of the 2018 track and field season forced her to refrain from running all summer.
As Byers recovered, a new face emerged for Chamberlain, as Allison Hough burst onto the scene last year as a seventh-grader, placing 10th at the state meet. Hough continued her progression this year, winning the Mitchell Invitational and the Chamberlain Invitational within the first month of the season as Byers attempted to regain her form during the same time period.
Such circumstances might lead to a natural rivalry, with the successful veteran clinging to the top spot and the young up-and-comer attempting to take it away. That hasn't been the case, however, as the two have developed a bond on and off the course.
"Ella supports the other runners because at the start of the season she didn't think she'd be running as good as she is and she wanted the team to do well," Chamberlain head coach Garry Winter said. "Having other runners beat her didn't bother her, as long as the team won."
Byers and Hough often discuss strategy prior to the start of races and feed off each other during them, with one of them eventually giving the other a signal to break away from the pack.
Early in the season, it was often Hough that got that signal, which Byers admitted was difficult at times, not because of jealousy, but because she wasn't completely back to her old running form yet.
"I was seeing her go off when I normally would-that was kind of hard," Byers said. "For the most part, we're really close. She's like my little sister and we get along great. We do have a rivalry, but it's very friendly. In practice we're always pushing to beat each other."
As the season has progressed, Byers has begun to regain the form that won her the Gatorade South Dakota runner of the year in 2016. Byers picked up a win at the Platte-Geddes Invitational on Sept. 22 and then cruised to a win at the Southeast South Dakota Conference meet on Monday in Plankinton.
The relationship hasn't changed because of it, as Hough, who says she idolized Byers-Chamberlain's lone senior and runner older than a freshman-even before she began running, is thinking about team success rather than individual accolades.
"We're not really focusing on individual (success), but we're hoping to be really good as a team," Hough said. "Ella's focusing on college and being a senior and I'm more or less running for the team this year. Next year it can be about other stuff, but this year it's for the team."
Chamberlain, which had seven runners in the top 30 and six in the top 20 at the SESD meet, is slated to compete in the Region 4A meet on Oct. 11 at Chamberlain Country Club.