BY AARON PATTERSON firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — DANVILLE — Big expectations were in place for Danville’s Mercedes Elliott. She was the favorite to win this year’s Big 12 Conference cross country championship, and after last season’s third place finish, everything seemed to be in place.
She was beat last year by only Normal West’s Emily Brelsfoard and Normal Community’s Carly Pederson. Both were seniors, leaving Elliott as the field’s top returning competitor.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t Elliott’s day, and she finished in fifth with a time of 18 minutes, 51 seconds behind Danielle Beckstead (Normal Community), Hannah Wright (Champaign Central), Andrea Gordon (Normal West), and Rebecca Kaefring (Champaign Centennial).
Beckstead was clocked at 18:21.
“I just didn’t do well,” Elliott said. “I know that. Hopefully by the time of regionals, which is this next weekend, I can do better.”
Elliott won both the regional and sectional title last year, and her goal was to add a conference title to that list. She had been battling with Wright all season, and fell short in each race. Prior to Saturday’s race, none of that mattered. This was going to be Elliott’s time to finish ahead of her new rival, and her initial mindset was just that.
“This whole week before Big 12 I was telling myself I could beat her,” Elliott said. “Even during the race I kept telling myself I could beat her. But, it was just that last stretch, I don’t know.
“She slipped away from me. She wasn’t that far ahead of me, but after she got a little bit ahead of me, I just told myself I couldn’t keep up. Just mentally (couldn’t finish strong).”
Elliott ran at the front of the pack for much of the race, and Danville coach Todd Orvis felt as though everything was going as planned.
“She did exactly what we talked about her doing as far as trying to stay within reach of those girls at two miles and maybe getting some more confidence at that point,” Orvis said. “If she’s with her at two miles, maybe the confidence would carry through and she would be able to finish the last 800 and probably beat her. But, that didn’t happen. They broke her probably shortly after the two-mile mark. For her, it’s probably demoralizing seeing those two leave her at that point in the race.”
That was exactly where the separation began. Beckstead, Wright, and the others slowly drifted ahead of Elliott, and she was never able to make up the ground.
Danville’s Caylin Smith was the Vikings’ next finisher in 16th place, finishing in a time of 20:22.
Orvis believes whatever struggles Elliott was working through on Saturday are correctable, and that she will be able to rebound from the loss.
“Prior to the races, her mindset is very good,” Orvis said. “She’s very positive. She believes she can run well. It’s just when she gets out on the course in that crucial moment, that do-or-die moment, two miles, two-and-a-quarter, that’s the point where she kind of folds. She didn’t last year. Last year, from the gun, she was just a beast and had the attitude that nobody was going to beat her.”
Elliott hopes to find that same confidence within the next week in time for regionals, and plans to repeat as regional champion.
Still, she realizes that she has plenty of time ahead of her to continue improving.
“I’m just hoping for regionals and sectionals I can do what I did last year and put this behind me,” Elliott said. “I still have two more years ahead of me. This has just been a rough season, but I’ll be fine. I just need to put it past me.”
Danville finished in fourth as a team with 97 points behind Normal Community (46), Normal West (47), and Champaign Central (84).