Speedy subfreshman: A profile of Sarah Vaughen, Uni's next great runner
Published: Friday, December 19, 2008 - 10:34pm
URBANA — With all the great feats accomplished by Uni varsity athletes during the fall semester, it was easy to overlook a remarkable subfreshman who is poised to become the latest in the long line of outstanding Illinek female runners.
She's Sarah Vaughen, and she's already established herself as one of the top up-and-coming runners in the state.
This fall, Vaughen finished first at the Illinois Elementary School Association's Paxton Class A sectional, covering the two-mile course in 13 minutes, 4 seconds.
She followed that with an 18th-place finish at the IESA Class A state meet in Normal with a time of 12:34. By finishing in the top 25, Vaughen earned all-state honors.
The last Uni subfreshman girl to reach state was in 2004, when current senior Elaine Gu finished in 65th place (13:44). A year before that, 2008 alum Shivani Khanna placed 29th (13:08). Khanna and Gu both went on to become key members of Uni's cross country team, helping the girls place fourth in the state in 2006 and ninth in 2007.
Vaughen's accomplishments this fall certainly caught the attention of Doug Mynatt, who coaches all levels of Uni cross country and track.
"No other subbie girl, that I'm aware of, has placed all-state at the IESA cross country final," Mynatt says. "Since I've been at Uni, Charles Terry finished 10th in 1995 and Buck Walsh, now a sophomore, finished 22nd in 2006."
What about Michelle Mehnert, the top female cross country runner in school history, who placed third in the state as a senior in 2007? Mehnert didn't attend Uni as a subfreshman. As an eighth-grader at Champaign St. Matthew, Mehnert finished 14th at the 2003 IESA Class A finals, recording a time of 12:44. Vaughen was 10 seconds faster.
Mynatt describes Vaughen as "very pleasant, very coachable. She's obviously very talented and very self-motivated. For a distance runner, that is a key to success."
Junior Elizabeth Russell, another top member of the varsity squad, agrees with Mynatt.
"She is capable of hard work, and she has a lot of talent as well as the right attitude toward cross country," Russell says.
From Richmond to C-U
But Vaughen doesn't limit herself to one sport; she also plays soccer and is interested in joining track this year, with an eye on competing in the 800 and the 1,600.
Gu, a track veteran herself, believes that "Sarah will also be a stellar track athlete."
Vaughen, whose family is new to the Champaign-Urbana area, used to run in sixth grade at her old middle school, St. Catherine's School, in Richmond, Va.
"I certainly wasn't the best on the team or in my grade," she says, "but we had some really talented runners, and we didn't run in the same state meet as most other schools. I was good enough to get a varsity letter, but I was probably at the middle of the team."
Vaughen attributes her success in Uni cross country this year to various reasons, although she's not quite sure if she has improved or not.
"I'd like to think that I've improved since coming to Uni, but I'm not sure if I have gotten better because all of the races last year were three miles and this year it was only two," she says, modestly.
"I think that the absence of steep hills have definitely helped me get faster times, but I don't know if I've become a stronger runner or not. I think that I have improved how hard I try at practices; last year I only went to practice four times a week, and there wasn't as much motivation to push myself."
A Passion for the Sport
Vaughen's interest in running isn't new.
"I always wanted to do track or cross country when I was in elementary school because I loved running at soccer practices," she says. "I had run my first 5K in third grade and enjoyed the feeling of the race."
What attracts her to the grueling regimen of the sport?
"I enjoy a lot of things about running," Vaughen says. "I like how you can think when you run. I also really like being part of the team; you can talk to people on long runs, and you can make good friends while you are on cross country."
Yet, despite her success, Vaughen claims that "cross country is not a competitive sport, at least not like soccer. Sure, it's nice to place well in a race and get a medal, but I try to run more against myself than against other people. If I get a PR [personal record] but place badly in a race, I will be more happy than if I run a bad time and get first."
She also enjoys the more relaxed atmosphere at cross country meets.
"In the races I've been in there hasn't been a big competitive atmosphere, minus the state meet. People tell each other 'Good job' when they pass people. I really like that. I still try very hard to pass people, but even if I don't it's not the same as losing in other sports."
While Vaughen understands that "most people don't think of running as a fun activity," she believes that there is "more to the sport of cross country than running on a treadmill in some dusty gym; there is more to it than just moving your legs."
She enjoys cross country because she can push herself, go on ice cream runs, and talk to friends.
"I love being in a sport where it doesn't really matter how good your opponents are because you are running against yourself," she says. "It doesn't matter how big a race you are in because you can still give it your best and improve."
She believes that the more effort you put in, the better you will get: "To be trying hard and see your teammates yelling and cheering you on is one of the best points of cross country."
With Vaughen now halfway through her subfreshman year, it's not too soon to look ahead. What are her prospects as a varsity runner?
"Sarah is the future of Uni High girls cross country," says Gu. "She is an unbelievably talented runner, undoubtedly one of the fastest subbie girls Uni has ever had. After Elizabeth Russell graduates, Sarah will be the one leading the team. She definitely has potential to go to state as an individual."