By Kyle Daubs
It was only fitting that these groups of seniors finished All-Apollo one last time together.
Charleston’s Megan Garrett and Grace Spoonhour and Mattoon’s Kylie Haacke have raced each other for four years. Last week, the senior trio represented Coles County at its finest by placing in the top 10 and making the All-Apollo Conference team.
Haacke captured second overall for the second straight year in 19 minutes, 16 seconds despite some regular-season losses to Charleston’s Garrett, who finished fourth in 19:54. Spoonhour took ninth in 20:27.
“Kylie and I have been back and forth all season, which has been so much fun,” said Garrett. “I’m so happy that we get to compete so often and push each other.”
Haacke remembers the days when Garrett blew by opponents in middle school, working her way up to a standout cross country runner, and then as an All-State 800-meter runner.
Knowing that Garrett had the speed, is precisely why Haacke knew she had to get out front, but she didn’t expect to beat her by 38 seconds.
“Megan is a phenomenal runner and I knew that she was behind me, but I didn’t know how far,” said Haacke. “I just knew that since I was in front of her, I’d have to have a lead because she has just a little bit more foot speed than I do. If it came down to a sprint in the last 400 to 800 meters, she would beat me.”
Despite being happy for her friend’s finish, Garrett is still managing to keep the friendly Charleston-Mattoon rivalry alive. Charleston placed third as a team, while Mattoon placed sixth.
“I’m proud from a team standpoint that we have finished ahead of Mattoon all season,” said Garrett.
As for her teammate, Spoonhour senior finished ninth overall and has thrown herself into the conversation the last two years. After not placing the last two seasons at conference, Spoonhour is a two-time all-conference selection.
She contributes some of that success to having a teammate like Garrett around.
“Megan and I have run and trained together since middle school,” said Spoonhour. “We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, which allows us to push each other constantly. This season specifically we have pushed each other to do our very best since it is the last season we have together.”
Garrett nearly didn’t have a season like this. After running 18 minutes, 40 seconds at the IHSA State Championships as a freshman, Garrett did not qualify for state the following two seasons, including running a time of 23:37.0 as a sophomore at conference.
“I would contribute my comeback to my love for the support,” said Garrett. “After my injury from volleyball sophomore year, I trained very hard going into my junior season not knowing I would get mono. I ran the whole season without an answer to why I was not performing at the level I had hoped. It was tough when people would ask me what happened because I couldn’t give them an answer. I just thought I had gotten slower. That season gave me even more motivation to return stronger and faster.”
Garett said that those years pushed her to being the runner she is now.
“It was very hard when I was not performing at the level I had previously been able to,” said Garrett. “I felt discouraged and angry. For anyone who doesn’t believe they can achieve what they once could, I would them to keep fighting and to never give up. Once you give up, you might not ever get there again. You have to stay mentally tough and turn the negatives into positives.”
Charleston enter Saturday’s’ IHSA regional in Taylorville with two All-Apollo runners and a chance to push for a Sectional berth.
“I am proud of this season because I feel like I have pushed myself and done my best, as well as the team,” said Spoonhour. “I am proud of our entire team for making the best of these unforeseen circumstances. This has been a great final cross country season, and I am very excited for the last two posteasons races.”
Haacke capped off a career where she earn All-Apollo all four years, including a second successive second-place finish last week.
“Being a four-time all-conference is a huge accomplishment,” said Haacke. “We have always had tough competition in the distance category. With Mahomet joining my freshman year, then Mount Zion is always good. With Megan and my former teammates in Quincy Collings and Kenzie Schofield, the Apollo has always been tough. From placing sixth my freshman year to third my sophomore year and then runner up these last two years is something I am very proud of.”
Haacke defeated last year’s Apollo Conference champion, Mahomet-Seymour’s Elizabeth Sims, in the process. Lincoln freshman Becca Heitzig (18:44.8) dominated the race.
Sims had to be transported to the ER at the Charleston Invitational after collapsing just past the finish line. Haacke checked on the junior runner, who sat up and was treated in the grass a few feet past the finish. The two have become friendly and have checked in on each other since.
“I want to be remembered as a strong, confident and determined runner, but also a little more,” said Haacke. “Elizabeth is a super runner and a very nice person. She said thanks for checking up and it meant a lot and called me a great teammate and great people. I hope to be remembered as not only as someone who works hard, but someone who is that great teammate, which is something Coach Dale (Righter) preaches to our team.”