Lafayette High School (Wildwood, Mo.) senior and 2015 Missouri Class 4 state cross country champion Anna West traveled to Portland, Ore. in December, 2015, seeking to start a new streak of Missouri All-Americans at one of the two most prestigious high school cross country post-season meets. After Missourians earned All-American honors for several years in a row at the Nike Cross Nationals or Foot Locker Nationals, the 2014 season went by without any, while Nerinx Hall’s Sophia Racette just missed qualifying for both meets by one place.
West became the 10th Missourian in 12 years to qualify individually for Nike Cross Nationals. West qualified with her runner-up finish at the Nike Midwest Regional, November 15, 2015 in Terre Haute, Ind.
She was successful in reaching her goal of earning All-American honors and she capped her high school cross country career with a 13th-place 17:25 finish Saturday, December 5th, 2015, to become the seventh Missourian to earn All-American honors at the 12-year old meet.
West appeared to get out well and did not move much place-wise throughout the 5k race. West ran 5:19 for the first mile where she was in 17th place. At two-miles, West moved up to 14th place, running a 5:46 mile. West covered the final 1.1 miles in 6:20 and moved up one spot to 13th.
She earned the ninth All-American honors for a Missourian, which are bestowed to the top 21 finishers in the race, as 13th earned her 2nd Team honors. West did so in wet conditions. “It rained for the majority of the time we were there. The day before (the race), when we previewed the course we had to stay off to the side because we couldn’t actually run on the course because we didn’t want to trample it. It was very muddy during the race, it was slippery, it was hard to find footing.
“You just have to realize that it’s the same for every girl, and every girl is doing the same thing, so it’s not like you have an advantage or disadvantage.” West added, “(The conditions) probably slowed us down a bit. It was harder down hills because you don’t want to fall, but besides that it was okay. I know for the guys race it was a little more hectic because we beat (the course) up for them. It was nice for us, (or at least) it wasn’t too bad.”
Thankfully, West didn’t slip and fall in the mud, but an object almost took her down, “It was before the first mile, I went around a pole and I almost tripped over it. It was bad, but my coach (Scott Brandon) was standing right there surprisingly, so he was like, ‘just get up you’re fine, you’re fine.’” West added, “I almost fell.”
West’s goal going into the meet to earn All-American honors did not change in the days leading up to the race, but the nerves kicked in for a while. “I was really nervous. I put a lot of pressure on myself when I didn’t really have to. Once I got to the race that day, my nerves went away, which is shocking because there were so many people texting me saying ‘I’m going to watch you online,’ like all my relatives…so I just had to turn off my phone and put it away. I just went out there and I had a blast. I normally am pretty nervous during races, but surprisingly during this one, it all went away. I just had a really fun time.”’
West explained her strategy and explained how the race played out. “I talked to a few girls the night before who had (run the race) before. Their biggest advice was just to get out hard, because you don’t want to be caught in 70th place and have to work your way up so far. I went out at a manageable (pace that) I could hold. I definitely went out harder than I usually do.
“I went out with a group of girls that I was familiar with that I knew I could race, so I just stuck with them the rest of the time, and they were making their way up a little bit so I followed them. That was my race strategy, to go out at a pace I could keep, but one that was hard enough that we could break away from the other girls (in the race).”
West said she was aware of where she was in the field of 198 runners most of the race and that she knew she was in All-American placing status the last mile. “I knew I was in 15th coming over the last hill, and then I passed two girls so I was fairly sure I got thirteenth, but I was really excited. My goal was to get top-21, because I found out the night before that that was what an All-American was. I thought that would be a really cool way to end my senior year. It was really fun.”
And what’s it feel like now to be an All-American? “It’s really cool. I hope it puts me on the (map) for later meets I might get invited to in track. At least for them to know who I am now, it’s a cool feeling. It’s a cool feeling to be (somewhat) known (nationally).”
The racing part of her trip was a success, but how was the rest of it? West got to meet many of her fellow competitors, as well as some of Nike’s professional runners. “My favorite part of the whole trip was meeting all the incredible people…” West wished her Lafayette team was there to experience the whole thing with her, but not having them there meant she could meet people from around the country and build those relationships. “It gave me an opportunity to meet other girls that I will race with in the future and get to run against in college. I made a lot of great friendships. That was a cool part, but aside from that, Nike just did an incredible job of showing us the headquarters and what it’s like to be a professional athlete, and (they were) treating us really well.”
Besides an All-American certificate and a little running gear, West gained several things from the experience. “(The experience) definitely (taught) me how to race at that high of a competitive level because I’ve never had anything like that before. I had Nike Midwest… which was my sort of my big preview of what it’s like to race national competition, so getting out there and actually getting to see girls I’ve seen so much on Milesplit and (other websites), or be tweeted about, to be able to race them, it’s really awesome. That will prepare me a lot for track too because I want to try to go to some big meets, maybe Arcadia (Invitational). That gives me confidence going in there too that I’m running against other All-Americans, like I’m one of them now.”
When asked about what it was like to join fellow Missouri Nike Cross All-Americans like Samantha Nightengale, Taylor Werner, and Jamie Kempfer, West said, “It’s really cool. I’ve always looked up to them as athletes, so I hope me getting all-American helps my younger teammates have something to look up to. It’s cool to go down in the books with those girls because they ran incredibly…”
Moreover, what has it been like the last couple of years being such a successful upperclassman while trying to be a good role model for new young teammates every year? West said they are building a tradition at Lafayette. “Sarah (Nicholson) and I, we’re like the unofficial team captains, we don’t really have team captains but Emma (Riordan) and everybody does a great job of that too, it’s sort of all the seniors. We had such a great experience with our seniors our freshman year, and our sophomore year … we had really nice seniors who helped us along. We wanted to give that same environment to the girls and show them how much we love running and how much time we put into it… because we want them to do the same thing when we’re gone. We hope they teach the same thing to their freshman and the freshman after that. We want to start a new tradition at Lafayette, that’s loving running.”
When asked about her eating habits since the race, West replied, “I’ve had a lot of doughnuts and cookies and I’ve loved it.”
West’s success can’t be attributed to her hard work and coaching guidance alone. She comes from a running family. Brother Jordan became an All-State performer in cross country and track for Lafayette after giving up competitive soccer. Jordan now runs at Baylor University, where Anna will join him in the Fall. West’s parents ran collegiately at Bucknell University, where Anna says father Steve was a 4:04 miler and mother Judy was a 35-minute 10k runner who still holds the school record.