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MICDS’ Ray runs to first-place finish in state cross-country championship

MICDS freshman Julia Ray took first place at the Class 3 state championship on Nov. 9 at Gans Creek Recreation Area in Columbia, Missouri.

MICDS freshman Julia Ray was born to run. In fact, she’s been running long-distance races since she was 5 years old.

“I enjoy distance running because it helps me de-stress from the day and it allows me to have a time and a space where I can focus on something different for a change, rather than just schoolwork constantly,” Ray said. “I also just love competing.”

Ray has shown the state how much she loves to run and compete. At the recent Class 3 state championship on Nov. 9 at Gans Creek Recreation Area in Columbia, Ray captured the first individual state crown in the history of the MICDS girls’ program. Her triumph also helped the Rams win the team title for the first time.

Ray’s winning time of 18 minutes, 13.8 seconds bested runner-up Lily Jackson, of St. Charles West, by 26 seconds. 

MICDS coach Jim Lohr was not surprised by Ray claiming the state title.

“ … I’ve known [Ray] since kindergarten and I’ve seen her talent and saw her run and I knew she was going to be really good,” Lohr said.

The state win capped a spectacular first season for Ray. She won the District 4 championship held in Linn, Missouri. She also won the Frank Lemons Invitational in Hannibal and Lutheran South Invitational at Jefferson Barracks. Among other accomplishments, she also placed third at the Lutheran North invitational at Spanish Lake and in Parkway West’s Dale Shepherd Invitational. Her time of 18:58.24 set a course record.

“The course was tougher than I expected, but even then, I tried to push the pace during the race,” Ray said. 

Going into the state championship, Ray had modest expectations. 

“I was hoping to place top five,” Ray said. “I knew that if I had a chance, I knew that I had to go for it.”

Upon arriving at state, Ray said she felt “extremely nervous.”

“When it was getting closer to the start of the race, I felt like I wanted to burst into tears because I knew how badly I wanted to do good in the race and I was scared that there was a chance of a different outcome than what I wanted,” Ray said.

Lohr helped Ray battle her anxieties before the race.

“My coach [Lohr] knew that I was extremely nervous for the race, and he told me that he would be proud of me no matter what place I got in the race,” Ray said. “He told me that the only thing he cared about was for me to do my best.”

After the gun went off, Ray said she tried to position herself with the top pack. At the one-kilometer mark, she made her move.

“She took off and no one really challenged her,” Lohr said. 

Upon crossing the finish, a feeling of satisfaction overwhelmed Ray.

“When I was crossing the finish line it was the best feeling,” Ray said. “I knew that I was done but also that I had won and that the win couldn’t have been taken away from me … Then we realized that our team won as well [and] everyone burst into tears and it was such a happy moment.”

Lohr said Ray doesn’t run and compete like an underclassman.

“She’s real mature when it comes to racing,” Lohr said. “She’s still a freshman and very, very smart when it comes to racing and race strategy. She says a lot of wise things. Her races have sharpened her to be the savvy racer she is. She had commitment and drive that it takes. She knows things on the course that I promise we don’t coach. We can’t take credit for that.”

Ray is happy to be the first champion at MICDS.

“I’ve been at this school since junior kindergarten and ever since I was a little kid, I was waiting and wanting to be able to run for the school in high school,” Ray said. 

Up next for Ray will be track in the spring. She is hoping to be able to run in the 1600- and 3200-meter events. She also hopes to return to the state cross-country meet in 2020.

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