A virtual blink of an eye is one of the main motivating factors this season for West Carroll junior cross country runner Briar Nevills.
As a sophomore, Nevills was the odd man out at the Class 1A Oregon Sectional. The top five teams and seven runners not on those teams punched their tickets to the state meet.
Nevills, competing as an individual for the Thunder, was passed at the last instant by Galva junior Lorin Peterson.
It turned out to make a huge difference.
Peterson earned the seventh – and last – qualifying spot for state with a time of 17 minutes, 18.53 seconds over the 3-mile Oregon course. Nevills was next at 17:18.57.
“You really don’t know who you have to beat until the results come out,” Nevills said. “At the end, you’re just trying to beat everyone you possibly can. [Peterson] just happened to go in front of me. The results come out, and you see all of the names circled, and then you see your name just below that circle. It just felt awful.”
Nevills has done what he can to make sure that doesn’t happen again. He upped his summer mileage to around 50 miles per week, and feels better than ever on the course.
“It’s not how fast you are or how strong you are,” Nevills said. “Those are factors, but it’s really just you putting in the miles. That’s what your success is based on. It’s not talent. You don’t have to have talent to be good at running. You’ve just got to do it.”
West Carroll cross country coach Travis Findlay uses Nevills as a guide for his team. If the Thunder follow his lead, good things will follow.
“Even as a freshman, we knew mentality-wise this kid was an outstanding distance runner,” Findlay said. “It was just [a question of] could he get bigger, could he get stronger? As he got older, he was going to be successful. This year, we upped a lot of what we did as a program in the summer based off of Briar and his determination to become an elite runner.
“Instead of just going for a 5-mile run, he’s going for an 8- or 9-mile run. He’s getting older, and he can put those miles in without the worry of his body breaking down.”
Early returns for Nevills have been promising. He placed second at invites in Rock Falls and Oregon, and won in Winnebago. After the Rock Falls race, he spoke about catching up to the Rockets’ Dawson Smith, one of the top small-school runners in Illinois.
“You always set yourself to beat someone in front of you,” Nevills said. “Yeah, there’s a lot of people in front of me, but why not go out for maybe the best guy in the state? You just set your goals high.”
Nevills has already gotten a taste of state-level competition. As a sophomore, he advanced to state as a 113-pound wrestler. Alas, he went 0-2 in Champaign to wrap up a 33-13 season.
He’ll be looking for a return trip come February, but in the meantime, he’s got his sights set on advancing to state in cross country. The sectional will once again be in Oregon, site of last year’s disappointment, and Nevills wants to etch his name in school history.
“The biggest reason I’m running this year is to go down to state,” Nevills said. “We don’t have a lot of state qualifiers come out of this school. I’d be the first state qualifier in cross country at this school, and that would be a pretty cool thing to be known for at West Carroll.”