PA Girls: Neely Spence and Carly Seymour relax and take 1&3 - PA girls team 2nd (pix)

PA juniors Neely Spence and Carly Seymour 'relax' their way to 1st & 3rd. Fellow junior Kacey Gibson was 12th, less than five seconds out of a spot. PA Girls are 2nd overall, placing five in the top 18.

Ommmmmmm. Breathe. Relax. Ommmmmm. Breathe. Just relax. Ommmmm... I think I better move up if I want to make the finals. Ommmmm... there, that's better. I'm in first. Ommmmm....

Neely Spence is at the back of the front pack entering the woods (back left).
But in 2nd with just over 1000 meters to go. She has Carly Seymour and Hannah Davidson for company in the final straight.
(first and third photos by John Nepolitan)

The common strength shared by the two Pennsylvania juniors who took 1st and 3rd in the Northeast Region is that these girls have learned how to control their emotions, how to quickly assess a situation, but more importantly, not to over-react. They are confident in their abilities. Confident in their training. And confident they can meet their goals. Even if they're not feeling great. Even if they're a bit back in the pack.

Neely Spence of Shippensburg, and Carly Seymour of Central Cambria near Altoona, are both going to the west coast for the first time. Both used a strong mental approach and preparation for the race to deal with different problems each faced early. And both were thrilled with the results.

Neely Spence was in position to earn a spot in 2005. But a then-undiagnosed iron deficiency conspired to sap her strength over the final 1000 meters, when she would slip from the top ten to 19th. Problem corrected. But Neely is not just a year older and smarter. There have been other big changes, as well. It's a year in which the homeschooled daughter of 1991 Marathon World Championship medalist Steve Spence became a member of a high school team for the first time. PA Governor Ed Rendell had signed the legislation in January 2006, and by November 4th, Neely was a state champion... running for her local high school, Shippensburg.

Neely knew the plan. Get out fast, be comfortably in the front pack entering the woods, keep contact on the hills and then to go to her strength – downhill with speed – to get a top ten position and a trip to San Diego. It was the getting out fast part that presented a problem very early. The 5:20 mile pace would chew through the pack as the race wound through the hills. Spence said that because of the fast start, she never really felt that great throughout the race. "I didn't know whether I just wasn't having a good day, or if I was actually running pretty fast." Because she didn't panic, it actually turned out to be the latter one.

Faced with the prospect of an off day, Spence started to focus on her breathing, rhythm and form. "My breathing helped me to be focused and stay relaxed."

She also relied on newfound confidence from the 17:38 she had run 13 days prior to win the women's division of the New York Roadrunners Club XC Championships at Vanny. And she relied on her training. "I knew that I could handle just about anything. My training has been going really well."

Spence was in the top ten at the top of Freshman Hill, and stayed in the 6-10 group through the woods, with the lead group just ahead. At the top of the last big hill, Spence made her move. "I really rolled on that downhill and just kept working my way up to see how many people I could pass." She rolled pretty well, because by the approach to the bridge, she was in 2nd. Crossing the bridge there was another downhill, and guess what happened... "I took the lead down that hill and headed for the finish."

But (now three-time) Foot Locker Finalist Hannah Davidson, the Saratoga Springs NY junior, and Carly Seymour had other plans. The three battled, with Seymour briefly in front. Spence says she had no idea she had it won before she crossed the line. "I was running scared."

Spence's winning time of 17:41.1 was three seconds off her NYRRC time. It was that race that had given her the extra confidence to push through what she knew would be a tough race. Her 17:38 goes on the all-time Vanny list, and was faster than the 2005 winning FL NE time. "That was totally shocking. I had no idea I was capable of doing that."

Now she does.

It was only the second race of the season where Spence ran her own race. All the races prior to the NYRRC race had been strategic – gauging the competition at the two mile and then doing what was necessary for the win. Her district race had been delayed to just five days prior to states, so she ran that race to qualify. "Every race this year has turned out perfect. But this one was better than I imagined."

Wonder what Spence is imagining heading to San Deigo? She didn't have an answer. "I take one meet at a time and haven't even thought about the national meet. I'm just looking to get my cool-down" (Hint to interviewer, gotta go).

While Spence is in the lead pack, Seymour is taking a different approach. From 35th!

Carly Seymour is in 30th or so entering the woods.
In the 20's by the top of Freshman Hills. And in 5th with just over 1000 meters to go.
But in 2nd with just over 1000 meters to go.
(finish photo by John Nepolitan)

Carly Seymour came to the Manhattan Invitational in October to get acquainted with the course, but more importantly, to learn how it feels to race in a group of talented runners. And notice we say 'group.' She is used to having a challenger or two in the small schools division in PA, but in her local races, she is always alone. Well, at Manhattan, she learned quickly, finishing 6th in the elite Girls' Eastern States race and gaining the confidence she needed.

What she didn't expect to happen as the Northeast Regional race unfolded was exactly what happened. She got boxed in, and found herself in 35th entering the woods. Whoops.

But no worries. Seymour has a hobby. It's, ummm, yoga. And she was prepared for anything.

"It's a mental race, so I spent a lot of time mentally preparing myself through Yoga. Just relaxing. Breathing."

While the lead group with Spence and Davidson was through in 5:20, Seymour was 'in the 5:30's". She was concerned.

"I have never been that far back." By the mile, she had moved up in the teens. Then, in the hills, she really started to roll. "I kept passing so many people. I guess I saved a lot of energy."

Soon, she heard someone yell she was in 13th. "I heard the girls around me breathing real heavy and they were tired, and I felt great, so I thought I had better kick it in."

Kick she did. With about 1000 meters to go, she had moved into 5th, within 25 meters of Spence and Davidson. By the time Spence and Davidson had crossed the bridge, Seymour was right with them. Coming out of the woods, she heard someone else yell she was 3rd. "I got an energy burst and I was suddenly in first. But then they (Spence and Davidson) passed me, and I didn't care. It's still the top ten. But I was thinking, '35th to 1st' wow. I was in shock."

Her 17:44 was within three seconds of Spence and two seconds of Davidson.

Reflecting on the race, Seymour was pleased with the unusual way it had unfolded. "I could have handled the 5:20 start, but then like States, my third mile I would have hit a brick wall." She was the runner-up in AA this year to Neshannock junior Kacey Gibson, who was in the top ten for a time, but finished in 18:18, less than four seconds out of the last spot.

PA Girls take five of the top 18 places to finish 2nd as a team, behind New York.

Neely Spence (17:41.1) and Carly Seymour (17:44) started PA with four points, but New York captured five of the top 11 places to score 34 points to PA's 48 points. Neshannock junior Kasey Gibson was 12th in 18:18.8; Big Spring senior Lara Crofford took 14th in 18:21.5; and Council Rock North senior Allison Sikora captured 18th in 18;27.9. Spence and Seymour earned 1st Team Northeast, Gibson and Crofford 2nd Team, and Sikora, 3rd Team.

PA athletes achieving top 50 finishes in the Class Races (top 24 received all Northeast designation for their race:

Freshman Girls
5 Faust, Brianna 9 MALUNGIE PA 19:34.8
7 Coates, Kelsey 9 EMMAUS PA 19:57.8
10 Kaulbach, Jasia 9 Philadelphia PA 20:10.2
16 Faust, Amanda 9 MACUNGIE PA 20:23.5
26 Faust, Christina 9 MALUNGIE PA 21:04.7
30 Taylor, Kasia 9 PHILADELPHIA PA 21:19.4
32 Jones, Laurie 9 CHAMBERSBURG PA 21:31.4
35 Eckenrod, Morgan 9 EBENSBURG PA 21:43.1
46 Poplawski, Amelia 9 PLAINS PA 22:00.8

Sophomore Girls
9 Meade, Melissa 10 Allentown PA 20:02.5
18 Walker, Beth 10 SAYRE PA 20:17.4
23 Hewitt, Abby 10 GREENSBURG PA 20:27.1
29 Shanley, Meghan 10 Berwyn PA 20:42.5
32 Cekada, Annie 10 MINERAL POINT PA 20:45.8
34 Arbaugh, Carlie 10 ELVERSON PA 20:50.5

Junior Girls
5 Smith, Melissa 11 Mercer PA 19:42.4
12 Garda, Allison 11 OAKMONT PA 20:17.0
19 Finn, Karrie 11 Richboro PA 20:30.0
32 Ventello, Martine 11 TOWANDA PA 20:58.5

Senior Girls
7 Jackson, Brittany 12 Philadelphia PA 20:17.1
32 Markham, Kelsey 12 ERIE PA 21:11.7
34 Binkey, Amanda 12 LATROBE PA 21:17.7
38 Rimkis, Ragen 12 WESTCHESTER PA 21:23.1