Above: Senior Girls winner Kirstie Rae (733) leads her school teammates and the field in her race last Saturday / Image: Michael Dawson / michaeldawson.nz
Runner-up last year, Wellington East Girls’ College’s Kirstie Rae put the hammer down over the second half of the race to comfortably win this year’s New Zealand Secondary Schools Senior Girls Cross Country race in Timaru this past weekend.
Kirstie finished the two-lap, 4km course in 14.35 min, well ahead of second placed finisher Charli Miller from St Peter’s School, Cambridge in 15.14 min and with Olivia Cummings from Otumoetai College coming home third in 15.21 min.
Kirstie was quietly confident of doing well, but acknowledged the quality of the field and trust in her disrupted build-up in managing a slight hip injury as reasons to stay calm and focussed on the start line.
“Leading into the race I was quite nervous, because it was the last race for my school and I have done the NZSS race for four out of the five years, but I was just looking at giving it everything for my school once last time in cross country,” said Kirstie.
She won her race in a field of 113 starters in the Senior Girls field (from a total of 808 representing 136 schools in all races), in fine, cool conditions on a mostly firm, fast course.
“The start was about 400m of flat grass and then went into some rolling hills and there were a couple of hurdles in there as well. So for the first lap I just wanted to stay controlled and relaxed.
“Charli Miller went out hard and she was a bit ahead of me and then with a lap to go I started accelerating and getting a bit of a gap on her and ended up extending my lead to the end.”
Kirstie gave WEGC the edge to win both the three and six person teams. Baradene College was second and St Peter’s School third in the three team and Diocesan School second and St Cuthbert’s third in the six person team.
Kirstie’s WEGC teammates in the Senior Girls race were Maali Kyle Ford (12th), Saskia Cosgrove Drayton (15th), Amy Walker (20th), Caitlyn Bassett (34th), Grace Gordon (79th) and Katie McGivern (103rd).
WEGC’s Maia Wilkinson finished second in the Junior Girls race, behind winner Hannah Prosser from Timaru Girls’ High School, with school teammate Mackenzie Morgan (10th), Anna Bassett (26th) giving them a second placed finish in the three-person team.
The school also finished third in the three-person team in the year 9 race, with Eliza Squire (4th), Phoebe Squire (16th) and Amelia Newman (66th) bringing them home.
“It was really awesome being there with my school team and watching the year 9s in their first NZSS race and being able give them tips and encouragement as well, “ said Kirstie.
What is coming up for Kirstie? “In the first week of the school holidays we have got the North Island Cross Country Championships in Taupo, and the New Zealand Cross Country Championships in early August in Harcourt Park in Upper Hutt. That is the same location as where the College Sport Wellington Championships were held recently.”
Then there is the Australian Secondary Schools Cross Country Championships to look forward to in Wollongong on 24 August.
“I will be racing in the U20 race, which a 6km, and I have heard it was quite a flat course so it should be a very fast race.”
Kirstie got her first taste of competing in a 6km cross country against the best athletes in the world earlier this year at the World Junior Cross Country Championships in Denmark – finishing 17th.
“It was an experience like no other, really amazing. On the start line we were lined up next to Kenya.
“It was three 2km loops and the course was really interesting with a lot of spectator points and a beer tent that we ran under with people drinking beer. We ran through a water pit, a mud pit and there was soft sand that made it tough. A part of the course was run on the grass roof of the Moesgaard Museum and we ran up and down that.”
Unsurprisingly, the Africans went straight to the front, but the pace was only moderate early on giving Kirstie time to settle. “I was in the chasing pack, with an Australian and a few Japanese. I think the Africans ended up filling the top 13 places, then it was two Japanese, and Australian and then myself.”
As well as the senior team, Kirstie was part of a junior New Zealand Women’s team that included Hutt Valley High School’s Phoebe McKnight (34th), former Wellington East NZSS track champion Tessa Hunt (88th), St Cuthbert's College’s Isabella Richardson (93rd) and Te Kuiti High School’s Samantha Corbett (99th).
Prior to heading to Denmark, Kirstie ended the recent track and field season in top form, winning the Senior Girls 3000m in a new record time of 9.38.69 and breaking the 12-year record by 15 seconds at the Wellington Regional Championships.
“I only just started doing the 3000m at the beginning of last season. It is all relatively new to me but I do like that distance. I also like the 1500m too.”
This year’s NZSS Track and Field Championships are at Newtown Park in Wellington, just up the road from school.
“It will be exciting having that on my home track and it will be good having all my family and friends watching. It is always an interesting meet as it is still early in the athletics season, but it will be by last race for Wellington East so hopefully we can pull out something good.”
Following that, she is looking at earning a running scholarship to a USA university next year.
Kirstie’s coach is Alistair Leslie, while Wellington Sports Medicine also provide an invaluable assistance to her running career.
Her parents are also really supportive, and Kirstie thanked her mum for cooking her pre-race pasta on Friday night this past weekend.
2019 NZSS Cross Country full individual results: https://nzssaa.org.nz/static/nz-xc-2019/results/results.pdf
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