Leedy, Foothill set fast pace

Just months after finishing third in the Class 4A girls state cross country meet, Leah Leedy had to stop running.

The Foothill High School junior, who burst onto the state scene last year, was sidelined by a stress fracture that took running out of her equation for much of the summer.

The foot injury, though, only made Leedy stronger.

And the added strength makes her a legitimate contender to be a state champion this year.

"She is a special young lady," Foothill coach Natalie Thomas said. "She definitely has what it takes to be a state champion. She has natural talent. She's at the top of her class. She's used to being successful in everything. She expects to be successful."

Leedy heads another strong Falcons squad that is shooting for its third straight Sunrise Regional title and an improvement on last year's third-place finish at state.

"I feel a lot better because I didn't run over the summer," Leedy said. "I swam this summer, and that kept me in shape."

Without the constant pounding of foot on pavement for as many as 40 miles per week, Leedy is more energized.

Thomas said the junior has shaved 20 seconds off of her mile time.

At last year's state meet, Leedy finished the 3.1-mile race in 20 minutes, 17 seconds. Reno's Maria Lawrence won the race in 18:22 but has graduated. South Tahoe sophomore Kelsey Smith returns after finishing second in 19:50.

If Leedy returns to state, which seems to be all but a done deal, and runs at her current pace, her time could be closer to 19:00, and that could win the meet easily.

"Taking that time off made her more hungry," Thomas said. "She just keeps excelling."

Leedy isn't the only one, though. Foothill welcomes back four runners with state-meet experience.

Brandy Yamka returns after an injury-plagued junior season. She didn't run in the state meet last year but did as a sophomore.

"She's our No. 2 runner," Thomas said. "We expect a lot of leadership from her."

Also back from last year's state team are senior Sherese Nielson and junior Dulce Leany. Leany placed 43rd in the state meet, one spot ahead of Nielson.

That experience will come in handy as the Falcons try to blend new runners in with their veterans.

Tylher Coleman, a sophomore, joins the team from soccer and is expected to fit in quickly, giving Foothill a solid top five.

"We have a lot of new faces and a couple more spots to fill," Thomas said. "They're getting better and more confident.

"We've been regional champions the last two years. The kids have had a taste of that. They know they're expected to meet that goal again. We expect some of our younger runners to step up."

If that happens, the Falcons have to be considered a threat to win the state team title. Reno nipped South Tahoe for the crown last year, with Foothill finishing 30 points behind both teams.

"We're more focused," Leedy said. "We're running a lot more, a lot longer than we did at this time last year."

Leedy and the Falcons aren't the only ones with state title aspirations.

Clark senior Leah Ballard finished in fourth place, six seconds behind Leedy at state. Cimarron-Memorial's girls were fourth last season but have had a roster shake-up, while Green Valley and Centennial also hope to make a move.

On the boys side, Centennial welcomes back sophomore Nathan Williams, who won the Sunset Regional and placed second in the state as a freshman. Of the top eight finishers in last year's boys state meet, Williams is the only one back and leads a Bulldogs squad that hopes to improve on an eighth-place finish at state.

Silverado's boys must replace two top runners from a team that finished second last year, while Palo Verde and Centennial have the potential to make a run at state.