Oct. 26—TULSA — Although many runners grapple with muscle discomfort, Gabriel Rodriguez faced a different kind of soreness in the days preceding the Class 5A East Regional Qualifier.
That physical challenge manifested as strep throat, an ailment that affected the Claremore sophomore for over a week. Rodriguez began feeling the effects of the illness on Tuesday, Oct. 11, the day after the Metro Lakes Conference Meet, but it didn't truly present itself until that Wednesday and Thursday.
The side effects lingered with him for several days before finally clearing up just days before the regional qualifier. Yet, judging by his performance, there was no indication he had been dealing with a bacterial infection.
Rodriguez achieved his personal-best time in the 5K race, crossing the finish line in 17 minutes, 18.73 seconds to secure the 15th position of 119 runners Saturday, Oct. 21 at O'Brien Park in Tulsa. His efforts helped the Zebras clinch a spot in the Class 5A State Championships — set for 11 a.m. Saturday at Edmond Santa Fe — for the first time since 2019.
The top seven teams advance to the state meet, and Claremore placed sixth of 16 squads with 188 points. Lincoln Christian claimed the regional title with 33 points thanks to five top-11 finishers, while Trae Baker of Tahlequah won the race in 15:49.76.
"I'm just hoping to run good and qualify for state as a team because we didn't last year," Rodriguez said of his prerace thoughts. "I felt healthy later this week, and I just wanted to run."
Helping him accomplish that feat were senior Devyn Llewellyn (17:50.68) and juniors Levi Craig (18:15.82), Adrian Reyes (18:29.14) and Sawyer Beller (18:48.01), who earned points for Claremore. Llewellyn placed 29th overall and 28th among eligible scorers, while Craig finished 42nd/41st, Reyes came in at 48th/47th and Beller was 58th/57th.
The Zebras' displacers were freshman Patrick Mitchell (81st/79th) and senior Chason Sisovsky (91st/89th), clocking in at 19:57.01 and 20:32.67.
"Comparatively, I still think they had a better meet at conference, but we did have a couple of illnesses and people coming off sickness," Claremore coach Eric Wiens said. "Gabe was sick; Monday it looked like death had warmed over him. He was white as a ghost and didn't have any color in his face. He was still struggling, so we were wondering what kind of meet he was going to have, and he ran well. Levi Craig came up unexpectedly and ran really good and PR'd by quite a lot — I want to say maybe about 30 seconds. Devyn Llewellyn just keeps getting better and better and better every meet. Adrian Reyes came in and did very well and ran awesome. Sawyer Beller ran good; they all ran good. Patrick Mitchell is our six-hole and his whole goal — he's a freshman — was 'I wanna break 20.' (He finished in) 19:57, so he's under 20 for the first time, and I'm fired up for him."
Of course, the race wasn't without its challenges. By the time the Class 5A boys race commenced at 11:45 a.m., the temperature had already risen to 76 degrees Fahrenheit.
Research indicates that the ideal racing temperature falls between 44 and 59 degrees, and when it exceeds that range, perceived effort tends to increase, causing a decrease in pace for most runners.
Indeed, "most" runners may be affected by heat, but Rodriguez appeared to be an exception as he effortlessly clinched his new personal best, leaving behind any trace of sickness in the process.
"It was hot; I kind of felt it midway through the race," Rodriguez said. "I was really pushing it. I was worried about the people behind me and how close they were to me. I really wanted to get a medal and qualify for state. I just try my best each race and hope for the best outcome. All you can do is your best. I just go at my own pace and don't go out too fast. I just don't want to kill myself that first mile and drop back a lot, so I just kind of maintain my pace."
In the Class 4A East Regional Qualifier at Nichols Park in Henryetta, the Verdigris boys secured seventh place among 17 teams with 206 points, narrowly outperforming Harrah by 12 points to earn a spot in the state meet.
Carter Gibson, a sophomore who previously won the Crazy Socks 8K in Inola back in June, led the team with a time of 18:13.48 in the 5K, securing the 13th position out of 119 runners and 12th among the 112 eligible point scorers.
Not far behind, junior Michael Prewitt finished 26th overall, or 25th among point scorers, with a time of 18:51.85. Other point scorers for the Cardinals included Nyc Genay (49th/46th) in 20:13.45, junior Jude Tyson (60th/57th) in 20:36.93 and junior Cayden Sappington (69th/66th) in 21:04.10.
The displacers, freshman Mason Sappington (21:12.96) and junior Joseph Pruitt (21:31.60), secured the 75th and 89th positions, respectively.
Byng won the team championship with 52 points, and Clay McKinney of Regent Prep clinched the race in 16:44.53.
Oologah also participated in the race, and though the team didn't meet the seven-team qualification for the state meet, Ty Lewis qualified as an individual after posting a time of 18:47.59, securing the 22nd position.
Both Verdigris and Lewis from Oologah are set to compete in the Class 4A State Championships at 12:15 p.m. Saturday at Edmond Santa Fe.
Moving to the Class 3A East Regional Qualifier at Nichols Park in Henryetta, Sequoyah qualified for the state meet thanks to a top-10 performance from senior Luke Wood, who placed sixth out of 67 runners and finished the 5K race in 19:17.3.
The Eagles took fourth place among eight teams with 123 points, while Heavener clinched the regional championship with all five of its point scorers placing in the top 10, including the winner Steven Cruz, who finished with a time of 17:24.35.
Sequoyah's second finisher, junior Wyatt Thompson, narrowly missed a top-10 finish, securing the 11th position in 19:24.34. Austin Galvan, a sophomore, was the next runner for the Eagles, placing 31st overall and 28th among the 54 eligible point scorers, and juniors Roman Henson (22:27.07) and Gregorio Morales (24:11.45) completed the team's scorers at 38th/34th and 54th/44th, respectively.
Gauge Patterson, a junior, and freshman Andre Geiger served as displacers for Sequoyah, clocking in at 24:15.28 and 24:20.45, respectively, while placing 55th and 56th.
Sequoyah is set to run in the Class 3A State Championships at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday at Edmond Santa Fe.
In the Class 2A East Regional Qualifier at Nichols Park in Henryetta, Foyil junior Dalton Ward emerged as the sole Rogers County representative to qualify for the Class 2A State Championships.
Qualifying as an individual, he placed 15th of 143 runners with a time of 19:53.48 in the 5K. Koulter Drake of Warner won the race with a time of 17:36.07.
Ward is scheduled to run in the Class 2A State Championships at 2:45 p.m. on Saturday at Edmond Santa Fe, marking the final event of the 10-race day.