PINEDALE – Pinedale High School sophomore Madison Antonino warmed up for the 4A varsity girls’ race at the Wyoming State Cross-Country Championships in Ethete on Oct. 22.
Like any serious athlete, Antonino wrestled with doubts and tried not to overthink the race. In 2021, Antonino placed 11th at State, missing the top 10 and All-State honors by 5 seconds.
“I was so nervous before the race started,” she said. “In my head, I was thinking of all the bad things that could happen.”
Antonino and her teammates and coaches on the Jackson Hole High School (JHHS) team traversed the course the night before, discussing race strategy and highlighting “different spots where you needed to push.”
Stepping onto the starting line on Saturday, Antonino pushed back the nerves by talking to her teammates about any subject except the 5-kilometer course looming ahead.
As the starting gun sounded, Antonino’s legs kicked into motion and her mind focused on the task at hand – gaining a good position in the front of the pack.
The battle for the top three places quickly narrowed down to Antonino, Cheyenne Central senior Sydney Morrell and Laramie junior Addison Forry.
“The first mile was a gradual uphill,” Antonino said. “The second mile was downhill, and that’s where I really needed to push and get up with (Morrell and Forry) and stay with them.”
Antonino and Morrell pulled ahead of Forry as the runners crossed the 2-mile mark.
“The third mile was all about keeping contact with (Morrell) as much as possible,” said Antonino. “She passed me, but the gap didn’t get too big.”
Approaching the finish line, Antonino’s mind honed in on a single thought – remaining with Morrell.
“I focus on the girls around me – their breathing, not my breathing. I don’t worry about how I feel like I’m dying and staying. I focus on the other runners and not letting them get too far ahead of me.”
Antonino flew across the finish line in second place, posting a time of 18 minutes, 40.13 seconds. Morrell crossed the line less than 11 seconds ahead of Antonino and Antonino beat Forry by nearly 45 seconds.
Antonino achieved her goal of breaking into the top 10, capturing 4A All-State honors and leaving everyone (except a seasoned senior) in the dust. And she is only a sophomore.
“I was so happy to be done racing,” she said. “Just knowing that the race went well was nice. As the season kept going, I kept getting faster. I knew I had a chance at placing high at State, so it was really nice to get a high place and know that next year, I could win.”
A jump start
Antonino picked up running “for fun” in sixth grade. Her cousins and father competed as runners and Antonino decided to give the sport a chance and joined the Pinedale Middle School track team.
“I tried high jump at first, but I wasn’t very good at that,” she said. “So I just stuck to distance.”
Young track athletes tend to gravitate to sprinting and mid-distance events. Only a hardy few choose the grind that is long-distance running.
“No one else did distance running, so I thought, ‘Why not try it?’” Antonino said.
Antonino went out for indoor and outdoor track her freshman year at Pinedale High School. Because Sublette County lacks a cross-country team, Antonino runs for the JHHS team under the direction of Head Coach Jeff Brazil.
Antonino traveled to Jackson twice a week to practice. Team workouts typically consisted of speed work and reps, while Antonino completed her long-distance runs and “recovery runs” on her own at home.
Running long distance and succeeding in cross-country with a team located one hundred miles away can be tough. Antonino sticks with the sport out of a sense of accomplishment.
“You’re giving pretty much everything you have out on the course,” she said. “It
is definitely a little bit more rewarding than sprinting where it’s 5 seconds and you’re done.”
The sense of community among harriers also helps.
“We’re all out there putting in our best,” Antonino said. “It’s a positive environment where everyone is cheering for each other. Before races, other girls say, ‘Good luck!’ They’re still competitive, but they want you to do your best too.”
A season of success
Antonino broke 19 minutes and achieved her first personal-best time for the 2022 cross-country season at the Bob Firman Invitational in Boise, Idaho, on Sept. 24. Clocking in at 18:45.20, Antonino snagged second place.
Two weeks later, Antonino shattered her personal record at the Bob Conley Invitational hosted by Pocatello High School on Oct. 6. Shaving nearly 40 seconds from her previous time in Boise, Antonino hit the finish line in 18:07.70, capturing first place and beating the runner-up from Pocatello by 15.2 seconds.
Coach Brazil hones the team’s competitive edge by entering JHHS in meets across the region. In 2021, Antonino and her teammates competed in Seattle. Antonino described the experience of running at sea level as “really nice.”
In 2022, the team competed at multiple events in Colorado, Idaho and Utah in addition to meets closer to home in Wyoming.
Entering multi-state meets with hundreds of runners provides Antonino the opportunity to push herself against tougher competition.
“You’re almost guaranteed a personal best because there are so many people and they all go out crazy fast,” she said.
Antonino earned the Regional Championship at the 4A West Conference Meet in Afton on Oct. 14. The cross-country course in Star Valley is notoriously difficult, with plenty of uphill stretches.
Antonino placed first with a time of 19:18.40, 39.2 seconds ahead of Forry.
At Regionals, Antonino’s strategy involved a gradual approach to picking off the other runners in the lead pack.
“You don’t want to waste all your energy and pass someone at once,” she explained. “I slowly work up to (the other runner) and don’t let the gap get too big. After that, it’s important to be confident in your move and don’t let her pass you.”
Antonino intends to continue running cross-country and track her junior and senior years. Her cross-country goals involve breaking 18 minutes, “continuing to get better” and possibly a State championship.
Antonino also plans to run in college. Her dream list includes North Carolina State University or Northern Arizona University, schools with strong cross-country programs.
When she isn’t busy with school or running, Antonino enjoys snowmachining in the winter and spending time with her family and dogs, especially in the outdoors.
Antonino thanked her cross-country coaches and her family for their support and “taking me everywhere.” She also gave a shoutout to Pinedale Head Track Coach Kyle Sullivan for traveling to several cross-country meets to cheer her on.