By BRETT MARSHALL
LAKIN — For much of the fall cross country season, it has been a real pain for both Paige Wells of Wichita County and Izzy Mendoza of Ulysses to run in competition.
They each have battled either a nagging condition such as Wells' troubled shin splints or Mendoza's long recovery from a fractured ankle suffered last spring.
On Saturday, however, both were healthy and came away with individual honors in the Lakin Invitational.
The meet, run over the Louck's Municipal Golf Course, is different than most where freshmen/sophomores and juniors/seniors run in separate races.
Times for Wells, a sophomore, and Mendoza, a junior, were the fastest of the day in their respective divisions.
Wells, the Class 2A state runner-up at last year's cross country meet in Wamego, was timed in 16:19 for the 4-kilometer race (2.5 miles) to defeat Colby's upperclassman EmiLea Finley's mark of 16:24.91. Mendoza's time of 16:57.45 was nearly three seconds ahead of rival Heber Jimenez of Hugoton, who finished in 17:00.13.
Wells' (posterior tibial tendonitis) condition kept her out of competition for nearly two weeks in late September before running at the Syracuse Invitational on Oct. 2, where she finished second to Greeley County's Kennedy Schneider.
Saturday, though, everything was clicking for Wells.
"I felt really good and like all season I've been kind of iffy about (running), but today, I just decided I wanted to run as hard as I could," Wells said. "The hills were really steep but coach (Shad Mehl) told me to use them and I just let them carry me down and then back up the slopes."
With the temperature in the low 50s and a light wind blowing, it was nearly ideal weather for the cross country runners.
"It was perfect weather," Wells said. "I just kind of started in the middle. I didn't want to start too fast. I ran with the Ness City (Jessie Rubottom) and Liberal (Destyni Lucero) girls and I just paced myself more so that I could have more between mile one and two."
Wells said the layout at Lakin was to her liking and also lends itself to more spectators being able to watch.
"I like it here a lot, there's more good scenery which makes running more enjoyable," Wells said. "It also helps to race against people you don't see all year."
With the cross country season heading into its final few weeks, Wells has the Hi-Plains League meet on Thursday, followed by the Class 2A regional at Meade, an event she won as a freshman, and with a strong showing there, will head back to Wamego on the final Saturday of October for the state meet.
With rested legs and continued therapy, Wells is looking for another strong finish to her sophomore season.
"I've been doing more icing and therapy and the legs feel good," Wells said. "I probably should have done more earlier, but towards the end of the season I seem to have more drive and we're starting to get to the bigger meets so it's time to pick it up more."
Wells said her coach has told her to just go out and run and just enjoy herself.
"It's easier to run with no expectations for me so I'm just going to go out there and run and do my best," Wells said. "I'm excited for the league and regional meets. We're looking forward to having a chance to qualify our team for state."
On the boys side, it was Mendoza who was healthy enough to return after having to drop out midway through the race at Syracuse the week before when Hugoton's Jimenez
was running even with him at the mile mark. Mendoza stepped on a rock which forced him to stop and Jimenez went on to win the race.
"I've been injured and tried to recover now for the last five months," said Mendoza after his victory over his friend and rival Jimenez. "I felt great today. I love this course and just absolutely love getting out here and have a chance to compete again."
Mendoza said he and Jimenez keep each other challenged throughout the season.
"He's a great runner," Mendoza said of Jimenez. "He'll beat me, I'll beat him. It's been close a lot of the times."
With his hit-and-miss running, Mendoza said he's just trying to work on getting his times down.
"I just look at getting faster times week by week and then I'll know that I'm improving," Mendoza said.
See results in Scoreboard, Page B2.