Cross country: LC freshman Sarah Hunsley making instant impact
By John O’Malley Post-Tribune correspondent October 23, 2013 11:56PM
Lake Central's Sarah Hunsley runs towards the finishline in third during the Crown Point boys and girls cross country regional at Lemon Lake County Park on Saturday October 18, 2013. | Charles Mitchell/for Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 25, 2013 1:27PM
ST. JOHN — More than a few freshmen have left indelible footprints in the history of Lake Central’s girls cross country program.
Dana Payonk and Megan Plenus were undoubtedly two of the best runners to ever wear LC uniforms.
Move over, Payonk and Plenus, you’ve got company.
Make room for another impressive first-year performer — Sarah Hunsley.
The diminutive Hunsley has already made a huge impact for the Indians in her first season.
Over the course of the past few weeks, Hunsley has overtaken junior Megan Zajac as the team’s No. 1 runner, and she keeps ascending to new heights.
“She just has this inner drive,’’ LC coach Ann Downey said. “You can’t make somone like that. It’s something that you just have to have inside of you. Sarah’s got that inner drive. She leaves it all out on the course.’’
Hunsley won a few dual meets, was LC’s top finisher at the inaugural Rudy Skorupa Invite, Culver Invite, Gavit Sectional (19:52) and Crown Point Regional (19:44).
Talk about making an instant impact.
A little over a week ago, she became the first LC freshman to win a sectional crown since Plenus accomplished the feat in 2006.
“She’s worked hard and done well,’’ Downey said. “She wants to win. She loves to win. She’s very, very competitive.’’
Where does that drive for success, that competitive spirit come from?
“I don’t really know,’’ Hunsley said. “I just push myself. I just don’t like (losing).’’
Hunsley’s been so successful and aggressive as a first-year runner, she’s been termed “an animal” by her own coach.
When you get right down to it, though, this young lady has proven herself to be a real beast once the starter’s gun is fired.
While she might be small in stature, Hunsley’s got a huge heart, a killer instinct that won’t quit and is mentally tough.
At last week’s Crown Point Regional, she ended up third behind Hobart’s dangerous duo of Celena Guerrero and Mindy Whidden.
“Being a freshman and being right up there is really exciting,’’ she said. “I figured if I pushed hard, that I would be up there, but not as (far) as up as I am right now.’’
Hunsley plans to be right in the thick of things when she competes at the New Prairie Semistate on Saturday.
“I’m hoping that our team can make it to state,’’ she said. “That’s pretty much what our goal is right now, and it’s what I’m most worried about — instead of individually.’’
In finishing third at last weekend’s CP Regional — teammates Zajac and Jade Tazbir were fourth and seventh overall — Hunsley helped the Indians capture their third straight regional championship and ninth in the last 10 years.
Her goals at New Prairie on Saturday?
“I would say (I’m going) for maybe the top 12,’’ she said. “I know who I have to stay with and I know what I have to do to get up there. I know I have to stay close with the front Valpo girl (Alison Mundell). I know I don’t have to worry about (catching) Elena (LaPorte’s Lancioni) because she’s going to be way up there.’’
While Hunsley has really blazed a trail of her own this fall, she’s quick to credit LC captain Megan Zajac for being instrumental in her development.
“Megan pushes me a lot,’’ she said. “In practices, I always have to try beating her. She’s always pushing me — like when we’re doing sprints — to do the best that I can.’’
Zajac admits she’s been pretty impressed with Hunsley.
“She’s been doing so great this year, I’m really proud of what she’s been able to accomplish,’’ she said. “Going from middle school to high school, you don’t really know your potential yet and you really haven’t figured it out in terms of what it means to push yourself, how to keep strong, and how to keep going. Sarah, though, caught on pretty fast and did it quickly.’’
Hunsley came to LC with impeccable credentials.
She didn’t lose a single race in three years at Kahler Middle School.
“I started running track there to get ready for soccer,’’ Hunsley said. “I ran the mile and broke the school record. When I broke the record, I decided to do cross country. Then, I started to like cross more than soccer. When I got to high school, I had to pick between the two. Everybody was telling me how close the cross country girls were, so I picked cross over soccer.’’
Zajac, also a good soccer player, made the same decision when she arrived at LC, and she’s glad Hunsley chose the same path.
“Sarah’s so funny and a great person to have around at practice,’’ Zajac said. “She’s always making people laugh. She’s a great teammate.’’