It was a perfect day for running when Emma Puetz and Krista Hilmas went up to Jefferson City's Oak Hill Golf Course to run in the Missouri State Cross Country Championships on Saturday, Nov. 4. It was a cloudy, but dry day and the temperature was nice as the two Lady Bulldogs competed against the top runners in the State.
Neither of them were able to medal, but both were happy with their performances. Hilmas had to face a funny bit of adversity right off the bat, as she lost a shoe early in the race, but the Rolla senior pushed through for a 72nd place finish.
"I definitely (feel like I ran the race I wanted to). I lost my shoe in the first 100 meters, so I ran the whole race with one shoe," said Hilmas. "That messed with my mind, but dealing with that on the toughest course in Missouri, I'm still happy with how I ran.
"Since it's my first time being here, I ran a great time, a great race and that's all I could do given what I was given," added the Rolla senior who finished with a time of 20:35.
Puetz was hoping to earn a medal this season, but she was happy with how she raced. Last season, Puetz finished with a time of 21:05 in 133rd place, but she jumped up over 80 spots in the 50th place as a sophomore finish with a time of 20:18.
"As Krista said, it's one of the toughest courses in Missouri. I'm just really glad I bumped myself up 80 places, PRed (on this course) by like a minute and 30 seconds from last year," said Puetz. "I'm just going to take this experience next year and hope to get there again."
The Rolla sophomore was also quick to point out how much head coach Don Knapp has helped her and Hilmas this season.
"Coach Knapp is amazing," said Puetz. "He coaches us so well, I'm so thankful for him. I couldn't ask for a better coach to help me throughout this season."
The two Rolla runners were also extremely glad to have each other as they stood in the box preparing to start the race.
"For me it honestly helped a lot," said Hilmas. "Especially because I was in the very back of my box, so I knew I had to push through people to get in the front and seeing Emma up there, it helped because I knew I had to get up there with my teammate. It really helped me to to push myself and get up there so I could give her company too."
Puetz shared the sentiment.
"Just having her there, it was like it was any other race minus a few of our teammates," said the Rolla sophomore. "Having her there, it was a sense of comfort in all of this madness."
Speaking of madness, running at State is a whole new animal. There are so many more spectators who take their excitement to the next level. Puetz and Hilmas tried to hear all those cheers and put it in their minds that all of those people were cheering for them. It helped Puetz especially because there were a few other Emmas in the race getting cheered for.
"Just going from a really really small meet to this gigantic meet, it's a little overwhelming of course," said Puetz. "I like having my dad talk to me a lot during my race, he encourages me and tells me places and times, anything I could possibly need. Having so many people, it's really hard to hear and just focus in one person in this whole mass of horns, yelling and all this crazy stuff.
"That's one of the good things about there being so many Emmas," continued Puetz about hearing the huge crowd. "Emma is a really common name, so a lot of these people are cheering for Emmas and I'm like 'ah, they're cheering for me'"
While there weren't as many Kristas, Hilmas just tried to focus on the energy and feed off of it.
"Well sometimes I kind of like it, because I just pretend they're all cheering for me, to be honest," said the Rolla senior with a chuckle. "It helps me in a race because I hear someone cheering and I'm like 'cool, they're cheering for me, let's go faster.'
Hilmas continued, "Sometimes I agree, it is hard to pick out what people are actually cheering for us because I like to hear their words of encouragement too because they actually know me, but at the same time, it just kind of helps my adrenaline and gets me going and gets me to push."
Coach Knapp was extremely proud of the way his two runners performed.
"They ran a really strong and good race. It's tough at this level. There's 170-180 kids here and they're all good or they wouldn't be at the State Championships," said Knapp after the race. "I was very happy for the girls, we ran really strong. They went out and challenged themselves the first mile, tried to stay with it in the middle miles of the race.
Coach Knapp continued, "Emma probably didn't run as strong of a race as she wanted in the middle, but she ran really strong at the end and Krista ran nearly the whole race with one shoe. That really took some courage. I told her that for now on, I will spell courage K-R-I-S-T-A. I was really proud of them."
While coach Knapp knows that Puetz wanted to be an All-State runner this year with a medal, he knows she'll be there before her high school career is over.
"She will be an All-State runner," said the Rolla head coach. "She wanted to be there this year, okay, she can do it next year. She's got two years and that's a very bright future.
Puetz is hoping to learn from this race so she can get that medal next season.
"(I want to) just take this experience, take how the competition was, yet again it was super intense and all these girls are so amazing," said Puetz. "I'm going to be looking at a lot of rankings, seeing who finished in what place and know where I need to be next year to finish in that top 25."
Unfortunately, there is no next chance for Hilmas, but she was glad to finish her high school career on a high note.
"I definitely (had fun). Knowing that this was my last high school race, I think I gave it all that I could and I was just happy to be out here," said Hilmas. "Happy to finally have the chance to meet my goal to make it to State and finally have a chance to run on this course."