Before this year, cross country was pretty much just a hobby for Mosley’s Kathryn Underhill.
The Dolphins’ senior had previously focused primarily on her favorite sports soccer and tennis, using cross country just as a way to stay fit in the fall before her real seasons commenced in winter and spring.
That changed at the end of Underhill’s junior year and as a result she’ll be heading to Tallahassee this weekend to compete at the state championships.
Underhill is the only Bay County runner to advance to Saturday’s 3A state run at Apalachee Park, and it’s a reality even she couldn’t have predicted before the year began.
“Yeah, it’s been really exciting,” she said. “I wasn’t really expecting this season to go this far, but it’s been a really cool experience to be able to push myself and see some goals that I’ve made being reached.”
Underhill didn’t even make it past the district round in 2018 after finishing 35th at the District 2-3A meet in 2018 with a time of 25:29.10.
She cut nearly six minutes off of that time in this year’s district meet, finishing in 19:43.30 to take fourth overall.
That earned her a spot at the Region 1 meet in Lake City where she finished in 19:54.08 to take seventh overall.
Underhill’s senior leap started with a new level of dedication over the summer that featured a much more strenuous workload and a lot more individual work.
“Over the summer I worked really hard and spent time just running on my own a lot more,” she said. “I took practice more seriously and I think that was able to help me just work harder this year and be able to (set a personal record) and do better than the last one. I think the work has paid off.”
It’s not that Underhill wasn’t working hard before, it’s just that she was treating cross country as preparation for other sports, instead of preparing for the sport itself in the same manner.
“I think last year it was more just a sport for conditioning for the other sports that I play, just like for staying in shape in the offseason,” she said. “This year I decided to do it as an actual sport. I realized I really loved running on my own and loved the friendships I made on the team and started to enjoy it more.”
It didn’t take her long to see the results from her new approach. After her first meet of 2019 she had already taken four minutes off of her previous PR.
She went on to win the Dolphin Dash in Lynn Haven with a time of 20:28.52, then later set a new PR with a 20:27 at the Gulf Coast Stampede in Pensacola.
Her goal from there was to get under 20 minutes by the end of the season. She did, and now she’s headed back to Tallahassee to compete Saturday at Apalachee Park, the site of her district run on Oct. 24.
It will be the third time she’s run the course there this season, which Underhill said gives her an added comfort level going into the race.
“I really like the course and I’m pretty familiar with it,” she said. “Besides the one main hill it’s a pretty nice course. It’s shaded throughout. I feel pretty comfortable with it and it will help going into it that I know what’s coming and a lot of the girls running there haven’t run it before.”
Underhill said she didn’t have any specific time in mind, but she did have a specific goal.
“I just want to PR,” she said, “but as long as I do my best I’ll be happy. Just being able to say that I went to state is the biggest thing for me.”