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story.lead_photo.caption Bud Sullins/Special to the Herald-Leader Siloam Springs senior Chloe McGooden runs in the Panther Cross Country Classic on Sept. 15 at the Simmons Course.

Siloam Springs cross country coach Sharon Jones doesn't have to worry about whether senior Chloe McGooden will be ready to run her best this Friday in the Class 5A State Cross County Meet.

"She's a gamer," Jones said of McGooden. "She's going to get up for the biggest meets. If she knows she has to run faster, she just digs deep and does it.

Arkansas State Cross Country Meet

Oaklawn Park, Hot Springs

Friday, Nov. 2

Class 5A Boys, 9 a.m.

Siloam Springs participants: Samuel Granderson, Kerrig Kelly, Adam Kennedy, Luke Fields, Michael Capehart, Blake Morrison, Ben Humphries, Javier Chavez and Jordyn Baskins.

Class 5A Girls, 9:30 a.m.

Siloam Springs participants: Chloe McGooden, Brittany Pilcher, Rebekah Rodgers, Candy Dubon, Claudia Mercado, Quincy Efurd, Sydney Moorman, Lilly Cole and Jacilyn Weilnah.

"That's the thing about her. I don't ever feel bad about giving her a goal that I feel like she can't reach, because she'll look at it and sometimes she'll roll her eyes like 'yeah right,' but then she'll go out and do it. She knows how to find that new gear. She knows how to dig a little bit deeper and put out whatever she has to."

Now, perhaps more than ever in McGooden's four-year cross country career at Siloam Springs, the Lady Panthers will need McGooden to be at her best as Siloam Springs tries to win its fifth straight cross country title.

The Class 5A senior high boys race is at 9 a.m., followed by the girls at 9:30 a.m. at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs.

It's a familiar setting for McGooden, who's finished in the top 10 individually at the state meet in her previous three seasons.

As a freshman in 2015, she ran a time of 21 minutes, 6 seconds to finish sixth overall in helping Siloam Springs to its second straight Class 6A state title.

In 2016, McGooden blazed to a fourth-place finish of 20:33.00 and the Lady Panthers won their third straight 6A championship.

Last year, McGooden finished ninth at 20:58.5 as a junior and Siloam Springs won its fourth consecutive 6A title.

McGooden said she knows there's lots of pressure on her and her teammates, who are now competing in Class 5A with 16 additional teams than a year ago.

"I like the course, so I don't dread running the course," McGooden said. "But the meet is just so much more stressful. Because in a regular meet if you don't have a good meet, it's fine because it's just a regular meet. In the state meet if you don't have a good race, then you're going to be bummed out forever after."

The Lady Panthers have reason to be optimistic about McGooden though.

Two weeks ago, at Huntsville, she ran a personal record of 19:57.45. Then on Thursday of last week, she ran a 20:42.80 in the 5A-West Conference Meet at the Simmons Course, which is Siloam Springs' home course and one of the toughest in the area.

"Last year my times didn't get better, they got worse. I didn't PR last year, but this year I finally did," she said. "I mean it's good because last year I was kind of bummed because I didn't PR. I missed my PR by like one second or two seconds. But this year, during the summer I felt a lot stronger, especially during my time trials. So it just feels really good to get my time."

The personal record for McGooden against Huntsville was also significant because it's the first time she's finished with a time better than her older sister Adrienne McGooden's PR of 20:06.9 in the state meet in 2012.

Winning another state championship would give the McGooden family a total of six between Chloe McGooden and her older sister Adrienne, who was the Runner of the Year for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in 2011 and 2012 and won state titles in 2011 and 2014.

"If she wouldn't have run cross country, I wouldn't have ran it," Chloe McGooden said. "I ran it because of her. And I just always wanted to beat her time. (Huntsville) was the first day I beat her time."

There's another element in play here as well.

Chloe McGooden is very competitive, and within her own team she's getting some push, especially from sophomore Quincy Efurd, who finished less than 14 seconds behind McGooden at the conference meet.

"Chloe doesn't like to get beat," Jones said. "So I think the more people she's got pushing her the better she does."

Said McGooden: "It helps, especially with Quincy because she's getting a lot closer to me. So I know at state she can run with me. ... because then it will push me to run faster than her."

Jones thinks a little healthy competition within the team is not a bad thing.

"I think (McGooden) really, really wants to do well at the state meet," Jones said. "She wants to get a good time. She knows Quincy will push her to do it. Quincy's pretty gutsy, too. She's never ran cross country before and she goes out and she's not afraid to challenge our fastest girls. I think Quincy believes she can beat Chloe and is going to try and do it."

Sports on 10/31/2018

Print Headline: Pushing her limits

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