TEMPLE — One second can change everything.
Despite opening the season on its home course and fielding the top two runners, mere inches prevented Belton from emerging victorious.
The Lady Tigers narrowly missed winning the Class 5A-6A division at the Belton Invitational on Thursday morning, finishing one point behind champion Vandegrift in the 12-team, 3-mile event.
While the outcome was slightly disappointing, Lady Tigers head coach Holly Lamberte knows the performance will make her young team stronger.
“Some of my girls, considering it was their first time to compete, I think they held back a little,” she said. “We are going to be more aggressive on the course. Another thing is when you get beat by one point, you have to be more aggressive at the finish because every person you beat counts. But we take every meet and learn something, and this experience will help them, and hopefully, next time, that won’t happen.”
Paced by individual winner Brooke Gilmore (18:47.2) and runner-up Olivia Houlden (18:52.0), the Lady Tigers accumulated 56 points at the Wildflower Country Club, placing each of their runners in the Top 21 overall. Vandegrift completed the course with three girls in the top eight individually to clinch the championship.
“For the first meet, it is a good place to start,” Lamberte said. “But it is tough to get second and be beat by one point.”
Helping round out the Lady Tigers scoring was Monika Perez, who finished 13th with a time of 20:14.2, while teammates Macy Niemi (20:35.4) and Katey Hatter (20:42.8) placed 19th and 21st overall, respectively.
Harker Heights placed fifth as a team behind Gracie Grimm’s 10th-place showing. The sophomore was the first runner from District 12-6A outside of Belton’s gold and silver medalists to cross the finish line. Her time was 20:03.3.
“I set a personal record,” Grimm said, “so I felt proud of myself and proud of my team. … I was just feeling it. I don’t know how to explain it, but I pushed myself and it paid off.”
Along with Grimm, Breanna Younger (21:04.8), Charlotte Fleming (21:06.0), E’Talia Graves (21:08.1) and Brooklyn Gonzales (22:53.3) helped the Lady Knights accumulate 164 points, sandwiching them between Midway and Temple in the final standings.
To Heights head coach Karron Taylor, it was a solid showing.
“We’re focusing on making sure the girls run a good race individually and collectively,” he said. “We did pretty good considering there is such a large amount of schools here.”
Several of Belton’s and Harker Heights’district rivals were in attendance as well with Midway placing fourth, finishing 14 points behind third-place Lake Travis (99), while Copperas Cove (208) and Ellison (269) were ninth and 10th, respectively.
Lady Bulldawgs sophomore Amber Boyd’s time of 20:03.9 placed her 11th individually, while Shoemaker’s Laquandria Bradley (20:28.8) finished 16th overall to pace the Lady Grey Wolves, who did not field enough runners to earn a team score.
“This is a tough meet,” Copperas Cove head coach Eldridge McAdams said, “but that’s what we want, and the kids competed. … This is only going to make us better and tougher as a team.”