SHELBYVILLE — On Saturday, Shelbyville sophomore cross country runner Gabby Spain will be surrounded by the best runners in the state. 

Spain will be running at the Class 1A state meet for a second time, but she's not good with the names of other runners yet. 

"Personally, I don’t really know the individual runners," Spain said. "I’ve never really gotten into that. I know some runners from seeing them at other races and I have heard it is going to be a great race. Class 1A is stacked this year."

Just one other runner stands out out for Spain — her Shelbyville teammate, Ailey Mitchell.

Mitchell returns to the state tournament for a fourth time following an overall second-place finish in 2017 and a 10th-place finish in 2018.

Together, the Rams' runners make each other greater than their individual strengths.

"Having two girls that finished in the state medals last year ... I don’t think they realize how much of a benefit it is to have each other," Shelbyville coach Chris Mosley said. "There is always someone to train with. If you are doing a workout and you need somewhere there with you, there she is.

"As a coach it is a lot of fun to sit there and go to meets and finish No. 1 and 2. I get to say, ‘Go win,' that’s the race plan today.'"

Both runners excelled at last spring's 1A state track tournament — Spain finished third in the pole vault and Mitchell was second in the 3,200 meters and third in the 1,600 meters — and the success has carried over into the cross country season. The Rams captured the Central Illinois Conference title and the 1A Shelbyville Regional crown in the same season for the first time in school history. The last time Shelbyville won a regional title, in 2001, neither Spain or Mitchell had been born. 

Since her breakout track season, Mitchell has been struggling with a low iron level, which has hurt her endurance. Iron is an important part of creating hemoglobin which carries oxygen to the blood — a critical part to a runners’ strength. 

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“Track season was the best season I’ve ever had," Mitchell said. "Coming off of that it really stinks because I know I could do so much better. I improved a lot and it’s frustrating. I’m usually a pretty good endurance runner, but it kind of takes that away. I can’t go as far as I usually can. I get tired quicker. It is extremely frustrating.”

Recovery is a slow process, but that hasn’t slowed Mitchell's resolve. 

“She has persevered through her struggles this year. A lot of runners would see that and say ‘I’m defeated,’ but she keeps going,” Spain said.  

This season has also been one of transition for the Rams, with Mosley taking over for long-time coach Kevin Kramer, who retired after 32 years as coach of the cross country and track teams. Mosley ran for Kramer in a regional-title-winning team in 2007 and served as an assistant coach for 10 years under Kramer. 

Mitchell said she found a lot of inspiration from Kramer. 

“Coach Kramer is an amazing coach. He has made me really enjoy running and he has always been a person that I wanted to work hard for,” she said. “He has inspired me and he’s a great coach and I still talk to him all the time. He made me want to work for him.”

Spain set a personal best time of 17:54 at last year’s state meet (finishing 16th overall) and this year, the strategy will be finding a good placement in the first half and then turning on the burners. 

"We don’t want to get sucked out too fast — that’s our main concern that everyone is going to go out really fast," Mosley said. "Coach Kramer put our motto in place — first half pace, second half race.”


A-L-A-H's Layton Hall (center, front) will be in his third straight Class 1A state cross country meet Saturday.

Cumberland duo, regional winner Hall coming in confident

Cumberland senior Michael Carpenter, junior Jasmyn Dittamore and Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond junior Layton Hall will be at Detweiller Park Saturday as well. All three are making their at least their second appearance on the three-mile state meet course. 

Hall qualified for the third straight year. Last year, he was 21st with a time of 15;30.93, earning him all-state honors. He enters the race with the fifth-best time in the state (15:03, which he ran at the St. Joseph-Ogden Spartan Classic. He was 59th at state as a freshman, running a 16:03. 

"I just focused on my arm movement and not crossing my arms mid-line of my body and using them when I needed them," Hall said. "I worked on getting quicker foot speed also."

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Hall won the Shelbyville Regional with a 15:29 and was fourth at the Effingham St. Anthony Sectional by posting a 16:10. The most satisfying part for him was his team winning its first-ever regional. 

"It was awesome," Hall said. "I wasn't expecting that. The young freshmen (Logan Beckmier and Lyle Adcock) really worked hard and the two seniors (Cade Hendrickson and Justin Miller) gave it a good effort." 

Hall said he is hoping to get into the top 10.

"I will try my best to stay with the top pack and not lose touch with them," said Hall, who runs year-round.

Carpenter has improved his time from state last year, dropping his 17:04.53 from last fall to a 16:40 at the Effingham St. Anthony Crossroads Classic. 

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"He never missed a day in the summer of workouts," Cumberland coach Jim Miller said. "He had never done that before. We knew we were not going to have Kort McClellan (graduated) or our No. 2 runner Blake Sutherland (moved to Pennsylvania). Someone had to step up and he took it to heart."

Carpenter said he ran 40-50 miles a week in the summer. 

"I know what the course is like and what the atmosphere will be like," Carpenter said. "It is exciting to be going to state and be a two-time state qualifier for Cumberland. My goal is to be in the top 60."

Dittamore just missed qualifying for state last year, finishing 21st in the sectional at 19:21. 

Class 2A Sectional 973 11.03.19.JPG (copy)

Charleston's Grace Spoonhour (left) runs during the Class 2A Decatur sectional on Nov. 2. Spoonhour advanced to state and is the Trojans' lone boys or girls qualifier.

"I talked to her off-season and got a plan laid out," Miller said. "I told her to take a few weeks off after last year and then get started again and she held true to that. Her biggest improvement has been planning ever race. Last year she would just go out and run."

As a freshman, Dittamore placed 52nd by running a 18:58.

"I had shin splints last year and so I trained harder this year," Dittamore said. "I tried to and stay up with the girls from (Tolono) Unity at the regional and they got faster and so I got faster. I wanted to do better this year."

Class 2A: Mattoon's Haacke, Charleston's Spoonhour coming on strong

Kylie Haacke never ran for Kevin Kramer, but she used his old slogan to help net her second straight appearance at state.

She went from pacing to racing just after she began the second half of her race in the Decatur sectional Saturday to pass a group of runners and finish 14th with a 19:19. It's nearly 90 seconds better than her time at state as a sophomore last year, when she ran a 20:37 and placed 185th.

Charleston junior Grace Spoonhour is making her state debut after she placed 18th at the sectional by clocking a 19:27, exactly 60 seconds faster than her time at a soaking wet Mattoon sectional on Oct. 26, where she still placed fifth. Spoonhour's sectional time is more than a minute faster than her times from last postseason. She ran a 20:42 at regionals as a sophomore.

Mike Monahan and Patrick Engel contributed to this story.

PHOTOS: Postseason cross country

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