Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

November 11, 2013

Freshman phenom

St. A's Keller wins 1A title, sets state record

Ryan Czachorski
Effingham Daily News

PEORIA — It was Anna Sophia Keller’s first time on the state cross country course at Detweiller Park Saturday morning.

A power outage only delayed the St. Anthony standout’s first crack at an IHSA state championship, pushing the race back 30 minutes.

But like every other race Keller has run this year, any side distractions didn’t matter. Keller ran like a seasoned veteran Saturday, winning the Class 1A state championship as a freshman with a time of 16:35.

Keller becomes the first freshman to win the state championship since Carthage’s Katelyn Bastert in 2003, and her time smashed the previous 1A record of 17:12, held by St. Joseph-Ogden’s Chelsea Blaase.

“It’s really exciting to win as a freshman, I didn’t know what to expect when I came in,” Keller said. “I just wanted to win it so badly.”

Her time is the eighth-fastest in Illinois history, according to the IHSA website. She ran the fastest time of the day across any class, tying with 2A champion Mailin Struck of Riverside-Brookfield.

Keller got out in front early and never looked back, taking a commanding lead by the first passage of the finish line. She separated herself from the pack the second time by, and by the time she crossed the finish line, there was no one in sight behind her.

Byron’s Kelsey Hildreth took second overall, finishing 45 full seconds behind Keller. Decatur St. Teresa won its fourth consecutive state title, but Keller remained the talk of the day in Peoria.

“This is my absolute first (time running here), and the first time I ever saw it was yesterday,” she said. “I think (the delay) was kind of helpful. It made me less nervous.”

Keller finishes the season with a perfect record, winning every race she entered with a regional, sectional and state championship to boot.

While losing isn’t something she’s used to, that’s by design. Her last loss came in the 800-meter run at the IESA finals last year, losing to Urbana’s Annemarie Michael by 0.12 seconds.

“It was kind of devastating for me, I never wanted that to happen to me again,” she said. “At the finish, that’s what really motivates me. You never know if anyone is just a bit behind you that can catch up.”

Michael finished 10th in the state Saturday, 75 seconds behind Keller.

Keller heads to the NXN Midwest Regional meet next weekend in Terre Haute to continue her already spectacular season.

Class 1A Boys

Immediately after the girls cleared the course, the 1A boys took the course on, with Altamont’s Andrew Sharp running the best race of his career.

Sharp took 12th place overall in his final race as an Altamont Indian, running a time of 15:27.

The state finals met his expectations.

“It’s pretty great. We came in with expectations with 15 or lower, so it well well,” Sharp said.

It was Sharp’s second consecutive to Peoria and Detweiller Park, after he finished 30th in 2012.

The senior said the experience helped him Saturday.

“Last year, it didn’t seem that fast,” he said. “This year, it flew. It definitely helped knowing where to go and when to go.”

Class 2A Girls

Effingham senior Jenna Bingham was the lone Flaming Heart at the Class 2A meet Saturday, and finished in the upper half of the meet.

Bingham ran a 19:31, good for 103rd overall.

It was Bingham’s first trip to state, and she finished 103rd out of a total of 210 runners.