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Buser made winning look easier than it was

December 11, 2007|By ANDREW MASON

Standing on the starting line for the Class AA-A girls race at the West Virginia state cross country championships on Oct. 27, Rachel Buser felt the pressure.

"I was extremely nervous. I've never been that nervous before," the Berkeley Springs senior said. "I should have been thinking more positively, but I wasn't."

Buser, who entered the race as the three-time reigning state champion, had reason to be concerned.

Not only had she lost to other West Virginia girls for the first time during the season, she had collapsed while running during two of the setbacks.

"My legs just felt like Jell-O, like I couldn't stand up," Buser said.

While she got back on her feet each time, finishing second at the Potomac Valley Conference championships and then eighth at the Apple Valley League meet, something clearly was wrong.

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"I just felt really tired all the time, especially when running," Buser said. "My legs just felt like they weighed a lot more than they should have."

She had blood work done immediately after the AVL meet - just 17 days before the state championships.

"I saw a couple of doctors, and they put me on an iron supplement - which I'm still taking - and that helped out a little," Buser said. "But I still felt weak. I was probably only about 75 percent at states."

Considering her average margin of victory from her first three state meets was 65 seconds, 75 percent of Buser was still 100 percent more than her competition could handle.

She took the lead about a mile into the race.

"I was thinking, 'This is my race. I'm more experienced than them,'" Buser said. "My goal since freshman year was to win all four years."

She extended her advantage to 15 seconds by the second mile - and then dropped the hammer.

"In the last mile, she just destroyed them," Berkeley Springs coach John Rowland said.

Buser finished the 3.1-mile course at Cabell Midland in 19:34 - 40 seconds ahead of runner-up Chanel Alexander of Grafton.

She became only the second girl in West Virginia history to win four state cross country titles - and is believed to now be the first girl in Herald-Mail history to capture four straight All-Area Runner of the Year honors.

"It's been an incredible run," Rowland said. "It speaks to her fortitude because this year was a real challenge. She lost a few races for the first time, but she was able to rally and peak at the right time for states."

Buser also earned titles this fall at the Musselman, Berkeley Springs and GEICO Classic invitationals, and she won the Region II championships.

Buser now is focused on returning to full strength and adding to her gold medal stash this spring. She's an eight-time state champion in track.

"I've really enjoyed coaching her," Rowland said. "And she can potentially get a lot better."

Buser's future plans include running in college.

"I'm hoping to run for a Division I, but I haven't figured out where for sure. I'm still looking," she said. "Louisville, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Baylor, Florida, Syracuse, Virginia - I don't really know. I just don't want to go anywhere past Texas."

Joining Buser on the All-Area First Team are:

· Chelsea Connelly, Smithsburg - The senior helped lead the Leopards to team titles at the MVAL Antietam Conference, Washington County and Maryland Class 1A West championships. Connelly was the county runner-up and placed 15th states - one of only two area girls to leave Hereford with a state medal.

· Tracey Forsythe, Williamsport - The junior was champion of both Washington County and the MVAL Antietam Conference. She also won the small-school title at Clear Spring's Interstate Classic. Forsythe was the area's top finisher at both the Maryland Class 1A West championships (third) and the state meet (ninth).

· Shelby Johnson, Martinsburg - The sophomore won titles at the Hedgesville Invitational and the Berkeley County and Apple Valley League championships. Johnson was the area's top performer at Boonsboro's Frank Keyser Invitational (sixth), Clear Spring's Interstate Classic (third) and the Potomac Valley Conference championships (second in AAA). She finished fifth at the Region II Class AAA championships and 18th at the state meet.

· Andrea Nickerson, Jefferson - The sophomore led the Cougars to team wins at the Potomac Valley Conference and Apple Valley League championships and the Hedgesville Invitational. She was the area's top performer at the West Virginia Class AAA state meet, finishing 15th.

· Mackenzie Riford, Mercersburg Academy - The freshman earned all-state status by placing seventh at the Pennsylvania Independent School meet. Riford also posted top-10 finishes at the Mid-Atlantic Prep League championships (fourth) and the Forest Hills (fifth), Altoona (ninth) and Landon (fourth) invitationals.

· Haley Thomas, Chambersburg - The junior placed 23rd at the PIAA District 3-AAA meet, earning her third straight district medal and the area's lone berth to the girls state championships. She also placed sixth in a loaded field at the Steel City Invitational.

· All-Area Second Team: Lena Finucane, Jr., Mercersburg Academy; Lindsey Hash, Fr., Laurie Jones, So., Chambersburg; Jefferson; Ali Lambert, Sr., Chambersburg; Whitney Lewis, So., Musselman; Natalie Mancini, Sr., Smithsburg; Annie Spencer, Sr., Mercersburg Academy.

The All-Area runners were selected by The Herald-Mail sports staff.

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