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SPOTLIGHT
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TMP's Ruder set for a classic

Published on -10/26/2012, 10:15 AM

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By KLINT SPILLER

kspiller@dailynews.net

When Thomas More Prep-Marian senior Heather Ruder sets foot on the starting line Saturday, she will have an opportunity to do something no Monarch has ever done: win two individual cross country state titles.

Win or lose, Ruder will go down as one of the greatest distance runners in school history, but if she brought home a gold, she would have a legitimate argument to be called TMP's greatest long distance runner. In fact, she might be able to successfully make that argument already.

"She's had one of the best, if not the greatest, cross country careers that anybody's had (at TMP)," TMP head coach Matt Dumler said. "There are very few that are going to come close to what she's done."

Ruder's resume is by far the most impressive of anyone in the Class 3A field.

Ruder is an eight-time gold medalist and four-time silver medalist in only three years at state track, and she has finished in the top three at state cross country the past three seasons -- second as a freshman, first as a sophomore and third as a junior.

"She's a real special runner," said Dumler, who is in his seventh year as head coach. "You don't get to coach them very often. Some coaches go a whole career without having one like that. Mine came real early."

The main obstacle standing in Ruder's way Saturday? Simply the reigning state champion, Hillsboro sophomore Emily Sechrist.

The two have battled it out since Sechrist arrived as a freshman.

Sechrist finished first in state cross country and the 3,200-meter run at state track, while Ruder won the 1,600-meter run.

They faced each other again in cross country Oct. 4 at Sterling, and Ruder defeated Sechrist by five seconds.

Ruder said she's noticed a growing rivalry.

"We are always pushing each other, and you never know the outcome," Ruder said. "It's been back and forth."

Dumler and Ruder engineered a different strategy to challenge Sechrist at Sterling.

Instead of Ruder's normal strategy of building a lead throughout the race, she stayed on Sechrist's shoulder and started kicking at the half-mile mark.

Ruder said she plans to implement the same strategy Saturday at Rim Rock.

"I'm just going to rely on my kick this weekend," Ruder said.

Dumler said they overlooked Sechrist at state in 2011, and they aren't making the same mistake this year.

"Early on, we tried to take the approach that we can run Heather's race and pull away from her in the middle of the race," Dumler said. "Well, that proved to get us a couple times, because we kind of underestimated her. We have had to take a different approach with her, because she's a great runner."

Last season, Ruder arguably had her worst state meet last year at Rim Rock, finishing third in 16:15. She had run better times and placed better the two previous years when Class 3A ran at Wamego.

"I was just not myself," Ruder said regarding her third-place finish in 2011. "I was exhausted the whole time. I don't really know what it was."

Ruder said she hopes to make better memories at Rim Rock this year.

Though Ruder's quest for a second gold medal is one of the top storylines heading into the state meet, she won't be the only Monarch competing.

TMP qualified its entire girls' team by placing third at the Class 3A regional meet, and the Monarchs did it without their presumptive second runner -- senior Allison Pfeifer, who's missed most of the year with health concerns.

"I had confidence in us the whole time," Ruder said. "I thought we had a really good chance of making it to state. It's really neat to see everyone stepping up and taking charge ever since we lost Allison."

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