Perhaps you remember these two from last year as junior high runners. Macee Nielson and Katie Hiatt enthralled us then as well as now with their competition and friendship.
In part two of their saga, Macee, a freshman at Monticello, waxed the 1A field at the Utah High School cross country championships to claim the first place prize. Katie, a freshman at San Juan, powered her way to a second place finish in the 2A race.
Really, the high finishes had their beginnings a year before, when, after the completion of the 2006 state cross country championships, Macee and Katie ran the course together. And after walking the course again the morning of this year’s race, they both hoped to run their best.
For her part, Macee says, “I just like to win,” while Katie said that her second place finish “surprised me. I thought I’d be in the Top 10; Top 5 would have been really good, but second made me happy, surprised, and relieved.”
Macee felt sick before the race and was trying to block out the cold and wet conditions. “I told myself, ‘I’m warm’” she said and “focused on the first corner with the cone and the tree, picked my spot and headed for it.”
Nielson didn’t notice the cold once the race started. Starting in the middle of the lead pack, Macee made her move about a mile into the race, passing and soon leaving all competitors far behind.
She finished nearly 1:20 ahead of the second place finisher. “It was tough having no one to push me.” Not much mention of the fact that she finished well enough ahead to pause briefly 150 yards from the finish to throw up.
In fact, Macee’s time would have won both the 2A and 4A race as well as the 1A race. She had the ninth best time of all girl runners on the day. Her time of 19:03 was the fastest 1A or 2A time since 1998.
Katie’s race began similarly. Just a half mile into the three mile course, she was in 10th place but after mile one, had surged to the top five.
San Juan coach Kimberly Hiatt said, “When I saw her in 5th I knew she was having a great race. Her times have been dropping all season and I knew a top ten finish was well within her ability.”
At that point in the grassy, undulating course, the girls ran around a large duck pond and then across the park and out of sight for about a mile before resurfacing at a creek bed that runs through the middle of Sugarhouse Park.
At that point, Boy’s XC coach Steve Hiatt was poised to take pictures of the Broncos as they came around a turn. He almost dropped his camera in surprise as Katie came out in first place, about 50 yards in front of the pack.
The look on Katie’s face was filled with surprise, too. “I felt like I could push a little harder to get around those girls and then all of a sudden I was in first. I was just as shocked as my parents were!”
Katie kept the lead until she entered the last 200 yards onto the Highland High School track and then junior Dayna VanArsdol of Moab caught her. It was a side by side sprint to the finish where Katie barely came up short of the championship title.
Immediately following the finish, VanArsdol turned around and threw her arms around Katie, “You pushed me so hard!” she cried.
Both girls outran 2005 state champion and 2006 state runner up senior Kaylee Coates of North Sevier who was expected to repeat her past performances.
Katie was thrilled with her time of 20:08 as she had finished second to Van Arsdale at region just the week before by 40 seconds. “”I think I’ve finally found myself at cross country” she says, noting her struggle with a decision between volleyball and cross country earlier in the year.
And what about that friendship? “Katie and the San Juan team were all at about the 2 mile mark cheering me on,” says Macee, smiling at the recollection. “Macee was waiting at the finish line,” beamed Katie, “cheering me on.”
But the friendship has added a third – VanArsdale, the same Moab junior who beat Katie. “Dayna and the Red Devil team were cheering me on, too” says Macee, and the three of them had a group hug at the 2A finish.
“I was happy for Dayna’s win,” says Katie. Look for more from these runners and friends in the future.