At the 3A West conference meet a season ago in Lander, Sienna Taylor was the second runner, fourth overall for a Broncs girls cross-country team on the cusp of claiming a state championship the following week.
But a pain in her foot cost her the chance to toe the line at state. She suffered a stress fracture at conference, forcing her to miss state, where the deep and talented Broncs went on to win the team championship even without its second runner.
But Taylor doesn’t seem the type to mope. A few weeks spent in a walking boot led to a healed bone and training resumed for the outdoor track season, where she was able to contribute to a state championship with the Broncs 3,200-meter relay squad.
“It was pretty rough,” she said of missing state a year ago. “But it was still awesome because we still won. I went with the team, and being able to watch them was amazing.”
There will not be any watching come Saturday’s state meet, as long as the lingering illness she’s fending off doesn’t worsen this week.
The Broncs showed their mettle at the 4A West conference meet last Friday in Casper, claiming the title with 40 points against second place and defending 4A state champion Natrona County’s 59.
Junior Muriel Jones led the way, finishing second in 18:55. Parker Smith followed in 19:28, and Taylor was just off her, seventh in 19:36. Kate Brigham was 13th in 20:25 and Jacie Chatham, returning from an injury herself, was the final Jackson scorer in 14th at 20:34.
Carey Ritter and Melany Perez-Pluma wrapped up the varsity team, placing 33rd and 37th.
At conference Jones was in the hunt for the individual championship, running behind a pair from Laramie and Kelly Walsh at the top. After her the meat of the Broncs roster — Taylor, Smith and Brigham — worked their way through the course largely as a unit.
It was the first time the varsity lineup has raced together in full since the Liberty Bell Invitational in Colorado last month.
Having that pack all together is how Taylor prefers it. Long stretches of race time or midweek workouts on an island can be especially daunting, so taking part of a middle pack capable of picking off opposing teams as the race winds on is worth the bit of in-house competition.
“I personally really like having a group of girls kind of all at the same level,” she said. “It pushes you, which motivates you to stick to that race plan or workout and finish it through together.
“It’s almost like a little powerhouse around you. You know if your teammates are around you, you want to push ahead to do better as a team, not just individually.”
The Broncs have fully solidified as a contender for the state championship on Saturday in Star Valley after downing Natrona at conference, but it won’t be just those two vying for the title. Quite like the boys state picture, Sheridan and Cheyenne Central should be expected to compete for the gold. Sheridan edged Central for the 4A East title over the weekend, 32-38.
Taking state is clearly the goal, but Taylor isn’t quick to buy in to some type of redemption arc following her injury a season ago. Mostly, she said, she’s looking forward to the fun of competing at a state meet one final time before graduation beckons in the spring.
Still, celebrating a team championship with rubbery legs and muddy shoes would be the ideal way to go out.
“It was definitely cool last year, but I’m hoping we can do the same thing again,” she said. “The feeling of actually running and doing well is even better.”