By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
Grand Valley’s Jessica Finley is the first Mustang girl to make the state cross country meet since Brenda Weaver in 1988-89. She is the first freshman from the school to accomplish the feat.
“We talked about it,” Grand Valley coach Kurtis Fisher said. “She kind of loves the fact that she’s bringing that back. I asked her if she knew she was the first freshmen (from the school to make the state meet). She just lit up.
“She’s living in it. She’s loving it. Right now, she’s trying to enjoy every minute of it.”
Instead of stressing herself over the possibilities, the diminutive runner is just trying to enjoy the ride.
“Usually, I let things get to me and I feel pressured by it,” Finley, the daughter of Amy and Jason Finley, said. “I’m trying to take the approach to take what I can and just do it. I’m trying to enjoy it. This is something you don’t get every day.
“It’s a sport. It’s supposed to be fun.”
Finley’s fun will begin with the gun to the Division III girls race, slated to begin at 1:30 p.m. today at National Trail Raceway in Hebron.
Trying to have fun with her racing is not new to Finley. It’s something she has tried to do all season long.
“That’s what I tried to do last week,” she said. “I really tried to enjoy myself and not think about (trying to qualify for the state meet). I’ll try not to think about (the race) until my feet are at the line and the gun goes off. You can only do something when the gun goes off.
“You can only do stuff when it counts.”
Already working on that way of thinking early in the season is a comfort for Finley, who used that approach to win the All-Ashtabula County meet.
“It helps to see that it’s already worked,” Finley said. “I know what’s possible if I relax and have fun. I had fun that day (at Lake Shore Park in Ashtabula Township), so it should be fun this weekend.”
Finley won’t be looking for a certain place this weekend. After all, that would mean her fate is decided by someone else.
“I don’t like to base it on place,” Finley said. “That’s basing it how other people do. I’d like to go out and run a six-minute mile pace. I usually do that for the first mile. I’d like to carry it on.”
Carrying that pace through the entire 3.1 miles has been something Finley has aspired to all season, even if she has fallen short at it.
“I try to keep up my first mile pace, but I usually lose it,” Finley said. “I’ll try and stick with it. It’s the last race. I’ve got nothing to lose. I just want something I can live with.
“I’d like to PR. I’d like to get out of the stinking 20s.”
When Finley sets her mind to something, she will do whatever is necessary to try and get it done.
“She’s got that thing you just can’t coach,” Fisher said. “She’s not going to settle for anything less than her best. What will help her is her approach. She goes out to do the best she can and will try and have the best race possible.”
If Finley, who has never run under 20 minutes, is successful in holding that 6-minute-mile pace, she will top her personal best by almost a minute and a half.
“It’s possible,” Finley said. “It doesn’t sound logical, but it’s possible.”
That sentiment might also be the best way to describe the freshman’s season.
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.
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