Haley Kerpan determined her senior season would be a good time to distinguish herself as a classy cross country runner.
It proved a quality decision. She made her mark.
Kerpan, a senior at East Alton-Wood River High, emerged as a top-flight competitor by finishing highly in major meets. Her season of success enabled Kerpan to become the Advantage News’ Girls’ Cross Country Runner of the Year.
“This year was a lot different for me than last year,” Kerpan said of her improvement. “I liked it a lot better.”
That’s understandable. Kerpan finished first in the small-school portion of the Madison County Meet and was second overall.
She also won the Class 1A New Athens Regional with a time of 19 minutes, 45 seconds. Kerpan placed 12th in the Metro East Lutheran Sectional at SIUE and then finished 71st in the small-school state finals at Peoria. Her best time was 18:54 in the Jacksonville Invite. That time was nearly three minutes faster than her top time in 2014.
“Haley had a solid junior season, but she really blossomed after a full year of training,” Oilers cross country coach Russ Colona said. “A successful track season was followed by a hard-working summer that made it possible.
“She has a very competitive spirit that showed in practice when she challenged the boys in almost every practice.”
Yes, that was Kerpan running against the boys much of the time in practice because EA-WR had only three girls participating in cross country. So the Oilers never fielded a girls’ squad. Most times, Kerpan was running on her own.
“I felt like I got out of my comfort zone this season because I pushed myself a lot harder,” Kerpan said. “I ran more during the summer than I had before and I also ran smarter. I found out some things about myself.”
She ran cross country only two years for the Oilers. Kerpan spent her freshman and sophomore years at Edwardsville after spending her junior high years running in Jerseyville.
Kerpan said the experience of working with Colona has invigorated her. She will run track for the Oilers this spring.
“Coach pushed me hard and I did a lot of workouts with guys,” she said. “I’m very competitive anyway and a self-starter.”
Colona added, “We set goals in preseason and with this Runner of the Year award we have met them all. I thought the pinnacle was becoming the first girl from our school to compete in the state finals since 2003.”
Kerpan savored her success.
“I knew I could have a good season and I really enjoyed it all,” she said. “I did what I had to do.
“Winning the (small-school) county championship was my highlight of the season. I didn’t know I had it in me.”
Once she finishes her track career, Kerpan plans to attend Illinois-Springfield, compete in cross country — and perhaps track. She’s going to major in nursing.
“I’m really excited about college,” said Kerpan, who maintains a full schedule outside of sports. She’s an honors students and works up to 30 hours a week locally in retail.
Colona is excited about having Kerpan around to spur the girls’ track team during the upcoming season.
“She’s a joy to work with, as I had coached her father in the past,” Colona said. “I look forward to a great track season this spring.”