The Siloam Springs girls cross country team needs one last strong race out of Jasmine Guillen.
Guillen, a senior, has been the Lady Panthers' leading runner in back-to-back state championship seasons as a sophomore and junior. Siloam Springs has a chance at a three-peat at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday in the Class 6A State Meet at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs.
But the Lady Panthers have stiff competition on their heels in Lake Hamilton and Russellville, and every point will matter in the state meet on Saturday. The Lady Panthers won the 6A-West Conference Meet last Thursday on their home course -- the Simmons Course -- with 37 points, while Lake Hamilton had 48 and Russellville 50.
"We're not running away with it though. It's close," said Siloam Springs cross country coach Sharon Jones. "I think we're going to win it, but I look at the times again and again, and they're trying to put together whatever they can to beat us. They're getting better."
Joining Guillen at the state meet will be Candy Dubon, Kimberly Guillen, Caroline Farine, Chloe McGooden, Allika Pearson, Brittany Pilcher, Rebekah Rodgers, Rachel Thompson and alternates Abigail Cole and Whitney Burns.
A healthy Jasmine Guillen will be key for the Lady Panthers' state title hopes.
Guillen has lost a step from the times she posted as a sophomore and junior, when she was regularly finishing races in less than 20 minutes.
As a sophomore, Guillen ran a time of 19 minutes, 46.4 seconds at the 6A-East Conference Meet in Russellville to earn the individual conference championship. She then ran a 19:48.8 at the state meet and finished individual state runner-up.
She finished first in the conference meet again as a junior in 2015 and then recorded a 19:37.8 to take second at the state meet again.
This year, Guillen's season-low in seven races was 20:29.59 in the Chile Pepper Festival on Oct. 1. Part of the reason her numbers are up is she's been struggling with plantar fasciitis in both feet.
"I was kind of bummed at it at the beginning of the season (with the injury), but I've kind of learned to work around it this season," Jones said. "I've really worked to keep running and doing my best for the team. I'm not going to let it stop me."
Her coach can relate.
"All year she has battled this plantar fasciitis," Jones said, "which I feel for her because I've got it right now too. She's battling it, and I don't know why because we don't do high mileage."
Jones said with plantar fasciitis tendons and ligaments in your foot shorten and when you wake up in the morning you are sore.
"Once you start moving around you feel better," Jones said. "When she competes, she says it hurts when she's warming up and when she gets going it's better.
"It's just something she's dealt with all year."
Due to soreness, Guillen actually sat out the first meet of the year at Shiloh Christian on Sept. 3, but she ran in the next seven races and led the Lady Panthers in six of them.
"She hasn't had the senior year we all wanted her to have and she wanted to have," Jones said. "But she's still our No. 1 runner. She's still medaled in almost every meet she's been to, and she's hurt."
In the 6A-West meet last Thursday, Guillen finished sixth overall at 21:04.05, but freshman Candy Dubon finished third at 20:50.05.
Guillen was ecstatic for her freshman teammate after the race, Jones said, putting her team before herself.
Guillen believes her teammates will be ready to go on Saturday at the state meet.
"I really think it's possible, especially with how all the girls are running right now," Guillen said. "And I haven't been running my best unfortunately. But I still feel with how the other girls are running as a team, I'm pretty sure we can do it this year."
Guillen wants to run in college as well.
"She wants to go to the next level," Jones said. "She's going to run for somebody. I don't know who. She's had schools talk to her and show interest. She is so smart too. She has excellent grades. She's the perfect package for a cross country coach because they don't have a lot of scholarship money. She can probably get a full ride on academic and just run for the fun of it."
But for this week, Guillen wants her last high school meet to be a memorable one. She said the last four years have been a whirlwind.
"They have, especially doing cross country and track," Guillen said. "It just kind of feels like I'm running nonstop. It all just kind of flows together. And I mean it feels like a long time but it also doesn't feel like long enough because I'm really going to miss this team. It's kind of become like my family."Sports on 11/09/2016