If you think it’s hard to win a regional championship, try doing it twice.
Saline High School junior Elianna Shwayder accomplished the feat Saturday at Lake Erie Metropark, completing the 5k course in 18:24.7 to defend her individual regional championship.
“My game plan was to win. I won here last year and I wanted to defend my regional championship title,” Shwayder said.
Shwayder was the first of seven straight Hornets to cross the finish line as Saline won its 11th straight regional championship.
Shwayder won the race by 21 seconds, completing the course 1:39 faster than last year, when the course was muddy and wet. It was the fifth straight year a Saline girl won the regional championship at Lake Erie Metropark. Shwayder’s time is the best of them all. In fact, her time was the fastest regional time of any Saline girl since 2005 when Eileen Creutz finished in 18:00 to win at Willow Metropark.
Still, it hasn’t been an easy season for Shwayder. Last year, when Shwayder won the regional, it was her third straight victory and sixth victory of the season. Saturday’s victory at the regional was her first of the season.
“This season has had a lot of ups and downs for me,” Shwayder said. “It’s taken me awhile to settle back into consistent good performances.”
Shwayder said she’s battled fatigue through the season as she juggles academics with running.
“My course load is really difficult. There’s the expectation to get attention from colleges,” Shwayder said. “But you just have to forget all those things because running is one of the purest sports. That’s what running is. It’s pure. It’s good. You have to put your nose to grindstone, forget all your pressures and go at it.”
Shwayder has done a lot of talking with her mom and reflecting on her cross country pursuits.
“I did a lot of thinking and realized I love to run and don’t want to turn it into something negative,” Shwayder said. “I want it to stay a positive thing in my life -- something that I love to do. I want it to make me happy and enhance my life, not detract from it.”
Her season seemed to turn a corner at the Coaching Legends Invitation, where Shwayder finished fourth while setting a career best time of 18:17.70.
Saturday’s performance left Shwayder smiling.
“I am so happy. Not just because of my individual victory, but because of the team,” Shwayder said. “That’s what makes (cross country great). You can be good as an individual, but it’s not as good as being good as a team. It’s great to have people to run with in the workouts and challenge you every day and bond with.”
After winning the race, Shwayder turned around and watched her six Hornet running mates cross the finish line, giving Saline a 1-2-3-4-5-6-7 finish in a 91-girl race.
“It was a beautiful thing,” Shwayder said.
The team goal coming into the race was “1-through-5, Ice Cream Pies” – ice cream pies being the reward the girls would receive if they reproduced last year’s historic 1-through-5 sweep at regionals.
“We surpassed it. It was so cool to have everybody be ‘on.’ It’s one of the things we’ve talked about with coaches. And to sweep a regional is certainly having everybody ‘on,’” Shwayder said.
Shwayder and the Hornets now turn their attention to state finals.
Last year, the Hornets were considered favorites heading to the state meet at Michigan International Speedway, but Saline settled for second place. This year, despite dominating their SEC schedule and burning up the field at the regional, Saline comes in as the underdog, behind Birmingham Seaholm and perhaps behind Grosse Pointe South, too.
Shwayder isn’t paying much attention to rankings and polls. And as good as the competition is, she’s not spending her scarce time worrying about it.
“The best way to approach it is to be aware of it, but not to let it consume us. I think that might have been a little bit of a mistake last year and that might have cost us the championship,” Shwayder said. “This year we don’t talk about the other teams as much. We talk about improving ourselves, lowering our one-through-five gap and making ourselves better. And when we get to compete with those teams, we will do the best that we can possibly do.”
With that kind of mindset, Shwayder and the Hornets are a lock to be happy when a great season of running comes to and end next Saturday.