Rachel Leerar's winter exploits have been widely chronicled, but her fall season is going pretty well, too.
In the winter, Leerar is the star player on the West Hancock girls basketball team, has led the Eagles' girls team to two state tournament appearances, and was named a Class 1A First Team All-State player in both years.
While she is most well-known for her work on the hardwood, Leerar has built up an impressive resume in another sport, far from the bright lights and crowded gyms.
“Cross country is a different sport. It’s definitely day and night different from basketball,” Leerar said. ”It’s an individual sport, and it's all about how hard you are willing to push yourself, and how far you can go when it comes to the training that you can do in your practices.”
For awhile, West Hancock didn’t have a cross country team of its own, instead sending its runners 10 miles down Highway 18 to run with Garner-Hayfield-Ventura. But in Leerar’s eighth grade year, the Eagles finally fielded a high school team of their own.
The team was small, with just two boys and two girls running meets regularly for the Eagles. A few athletes did cross country in addition to another sport, but when the time came to choose if events were on the same night, cross country usually took a back seat.
The numbers have grown though, with 16 kids currently on the roster for West Hancock, according to head coach Holly Lang.
Leerar has run cross country since seventh grade, and with its benefits for health and conditioning, she has found it to be a perfect companion sport for basketball.
“The numbers have definitely grown,” Leerar said. “It’s such a good sport for you physically and for your health. You can stay in great shape, staying fit and healthy. We’ve had a lot more people come out on both the girls and boys side.”
Leerar didn’t know much about cross country when she joined, only that she wanted to join a fast-paced sport. Leerar watched her older sister play middle school volleyball, but decided that the sport was too slow for her liking.
Her sophomore season, Leerar was named Top of Iowa West Second Team All-Conference after her finish at the conference championship meet. The next season, she made it onto the All-Conference First Team.
“I’m just someone who is really, really competitive and that is what makes me want to work hard,” Leerar said. “It’s not that I love running. Running is relaxing, but I’m so competitive. It’s a sport where I know I can push myself and see results. It’s so easy to see your results in time. You can see your results, because numbers aren’t going to lie to you.”
For Lang, Leerar’s leadership on and off the course has been extremely valuable. Leerar is also the school’s student council president, and was recently named homecoming queen.
“This is a kid that every teacher dreams about teaching, and every coach dreams about coaching,” Lang said. “It’s amazing. She is a leader in whatever she does.”
Leerar is hopeful that this year she will finally be able to make it to the state cross country meet for the first time. She knows it will be a tough task, but the key to cross country is self confidence and persistence, and Leerar has plenty of that.
“I know it’s not impossible. It’s definitely something that is doable. It’s just going to be pushing myself and staying up with the front pack and training,” Leerar said. “Give yourself a chance, don’t count yourself out before you even get there.”
On Monday, Leerar finished sixth overall at the Forest City Invitational with a time of 22:06.1. On Thursday, she placed fourth overall at the Top of Iowa West Conference Championships, with a time of 21:44.90 to earn her second consecutive Top of Iowa First Team All-Conference Honor.
Her younger sister, Mallory, finished eighth overall to also become a First Team All-Conference runner.
“When she sets her mind to something, she is going to put 100 percent into it,” Lang said. “Even if she doesn’t make it, I’ll know it is her very best effort. I would love to see her go (to state). It would be an amazing accomplishment her senior year.”
Shane Lantz covers sports for the Globe Gazette. You can reach him at Shane.Lantz@GlobeGazette.com, or by phone at 641-421-0526. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneMLantz.
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