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November 26, 2013

Girls Cross Country Athlete of the Year: Pendleton Heights' Alex Buck

PENDLETON, Ind. — There is an adage for athletes about a “sophomore slump,” where an amazing first season cannot be matched in Year 2.

For Pendleton Heights cross country runner Alex Buck, there is no room for such an adage. In addition to repeating wins in the Hoosier Heritage Conference and Madison County meets, she also captured the title at the Landes Invitational and swept through the sectional and regional rounds before finishing second at the semistate meet in New Haven as the Arabians qualified for the state meet as a team for the first time since 1988.

Buck capped her season with a 19th-place finish at the state finals in Terre Haute, earning a spot on the podium and the all-state team.

“It was so exciting to get to state,” Buck said. “It’s something we’ll never forget.”

The Arabians' success can be traced not only to Buck’s individual performance but to a strong team bond. In several meets this season, the team paced the field, as evidenced by placing five runners in the top six at the Madison County meet. The bond helps push each member through the race according to Buck.

“When you hit the point where you’re tired, you think about the other girls on the team,” she said. “You race for them.”

Pendleton Heights coach Melissa Hagerman sees a leader in Buck, even though she is only a sophomore.

“Alex is a fun kid to coach because she has a positive attitude and loves to run,” Hagerman said. “Alex is a leader by example, and it’s easy to forget she’s only a sophomore.”

According to Hagerman, Buck’s work ethic is a big part of her success.

“She attacks every workout and race with intensity and helps the rest of the team push to be their best,” Hagerman said.

After the Arabians ran their way to wins at the sectional and regional rounds, it was off to a tough New Haven semistate. The team came home third behind Fort Wayne Carroll and Penn, and Buck led the way with a second-place finish. Buck also competed in the semistate as a freshman and finished 40th.

“This year I was healthy at semistate,” said Buck, who suffered a broken foot during the semistate a year ago. “I went into it with a different mindset, more determined and excited.”

Following the third-place team finish, the Arabians were off to the state finals for the first time in 25 years.

“We went into the season with the mindset that we will get to state,” Hagerman said putting emphasis on "will". “It proved to the girls that hard work will pay off over time.”

The future is bright for the squad, as most runners return for next year. The team loses Chelsea Blackwell and Maddi Hinton but returns several freshmen and sophomores. Buck said reaching the state finals will help the returning members strive even harder next year.

“We want top 10 (at state), and it helps that a lot of the varsity is coming back,” Buck said. “It gives us a boost that we will come back stronger.”

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