Salt River junior high and high school students Leah Kochampanaskan (sixth grade) and Justine Cooper (ninth grade) took home first-place medals in their respective cross country events in the Canyon Athletic Association (CAA) High School Sectionals Division I, held October 24 at Mesa Community College. Approximately 60 girls participated in the CAA Sectionals.
SRHS freshman Justine Cooper took home first place in the high school girls’ sectionals race, running 3.1 miles in 22 minutes flat. Cooper set a new Salt River High School record with her time.
“I was really nervous at the beginning, and at the end I was proud for pushing myself at the end of the race,” said Cooper. “It was back-to-back with other girls and the pace was quicker than usual; I felt more pressure because it was a bigger meet. I worked hard at getting more miles and speed and worked harder at my kick at the end. I know I had a good chance at it. I was at third place for most of the race, and towards the end I speeded up and passed the girls at the last 200 yards.”
This was the biggest meet so far for Cooper. About this year’s team, Cooper added, “I liked this year more than others, because we (SRHS) all really pushed each other and came in every day and worked hard.”
Sixth-grader Leah Kochampanaskan received a championship medal as well in her division. “I got first place in the junior high 1.5-mile race. I got a gold medal and wasn’t expecting it,” Kochampanaskan said. “I guess I was sort of nervous at the starting line, then when I heard the shot to go, I got excited and started running fast.”
Kochampanaskan said that when they made the turn, she passed some girls, and before she knew it, she was in the top three. “Then when I crossed the finish line, I [saw] I was the first to run through. I didn’t think I was going to be in first, so I felt really happy because this is my first time to win. Everyone was telling me ‘Congratulations.’”
“She has won a few medals. Her first race was in Casa Grande, and she placed fifth. She placed in the top five in about four races,” said Simon Smith, junior high coach for the cross country team. “In this recent race she was ahead for the first mile and at least half a minute before the second runner-up, so she was all alone up there.”
Kochampanaskan said she had been working on her distance and speed to get to this point. She plans to get faster and try out for the cross country team throughout high school. Her fellow teammate, eighth-grader Ki-ana Loring, placed fifth in the event as well.