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During sign-ups before her freshman year, Cibola's Ally Jeffers was leaning toward playing volleyball.
But in a last-minute change, Jeffers opted for cross country despite not having experience with long-distance running.
Now a junior for the Raiders, she is one of best distance runners for the Cibola girls track and field team and a contender to make the 2013 Arizona Interscholastic Association Division I State Meet.
“I just fell in love with it,” Jeffers said about the longer races.
Jeffers, Monica Huston, Autumn Amidon and Amanda Martinez made up the Raiders' 3,200-meter relay that finished 14th at state last season. With Martinez gone, this year's relay team will be made up of a combination of Huston, Jeffers, Amidon, junior Shanna Norton, sophomore Alexandra Aceves and freshman Tierra Skinner.
In Huston, Jeffers has one of the best runners in the state to practice against every day.
“It does make them better because they see the success and how hard they work, and it makes them work harder with them,” Cibola coach Brett Pavey said.
Last year, Huston finished second in the 800, third in the 1,600 and fifth in the 3,200 at the state meet.
“I usually pace off of her because her times are what I'm trying to get to,” Jeffers said of Huston.
“(Jeffers) is kind of a unique case because usually girls can come out and be really fast as freshmen and sophomores and be really fast. They develop really quickly. But her natural talent just continued to improve, which has been a pleasant surprise,” Cibola distance coach Kris Norton said.
According to Huston, who has signed her letter of intent to run at Brigham Young University next season, Jeffers has continued to improve throughout the years and has become a reliable runner for the Raiders.
“She has really surprised me lately – actually it's not a surprise because she's such a hard worker. She's been keeping up with me on our long-distance runs and is right behind me on the track,” Huston said.
“Usually Monica is just way far away from everybody else, but the past six weeks the gap between her and Monica is smaller,” Norton said of Jeffers. “She's picked it up a notch.”
The Raiders, who finished No. 11 in the state as a team, also return the best discus thrower in the area in junior Baylee Lakey.
“I think she can be one of the best in the state by the time she's done,” Pavey said.
Lakey finished 10th at the state meet with a throw of 111 feet, 11 inches and was also a member of the Raiders' volleyball and state-playoff basketball team.
“I just learned the form a lot better,” Lakey said about her rise during her sophomore season. “I kind of want to win state this year. There's only six girls back – four graduated. So I want to win state.”
The other state returner from last year is Kayla Fiser, who made the big meet as a junior in the long jump and Pavey expects big things out of her in the sprints as well as the triple jump.
“I definitely want to defend my region title and help my team in general to defend the region title,” said Fiser, who jumped 13-2 at state. “I felt like I should have jumped further at state. I'm sure I'll do better this year.”
Jesse Severson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 539-6881. Find him on Facebook at facebook.com/YSJesseSeverson.