High School Sports

Running to win

The win was unexpected.

By the time Samantha Hughes crossed the finished line at Sandhills Research Center on Sept. 12, it was clear she had won the Coaches Classic championship division race.

Still, she was amazed.

"It came as a shock," the Dutch Fork senior said. "I'd been running races not to win, just to improve my times."

It was a sign of how much progress she has made on the course and in her mind.

"At that course, I've never run it under a 19:40 and I really PR-ed out there," said Hughes, who finished the race in 19.25. "It was very surprising because I didn't feel as tired as I thought I would running that fast."

Hughes has changed many of her thoughts this season.

"I've had a few roadblocks, mostly mental, but once I pushed through, things have gone really well," she said.

Her desire to continue running and become a member of a Division 1 team is the main thought on her mind as Hughes pushes herself through "death laps," the hilled-interval workouts she enjoys the most.

"I think she just sees the value in that, and she knows how that hard work is going to show results," Dutch Fork coach Barry Lindler said.

Hughes took that same approach to summer training, when she took 90-minute runs with a friend who runs for Wofford.

"I was basically doing her summer training program, because I really want to be better," she said.

Lindler has been impressed with Hughes' drive for success. He named her team captain, hoping to enhance her natural tendency toward leadership. Besides that, Lindler has set no concrete performance goals for Hughes.

"I've always emphasized with her is that she can only do her personal best. It just so happens that her best is getting better every week," he said, adding that she is almost entirely self-motivated.

Hughes has three big wins this season: She won the Lexington County meet (19.21) on Sept. 9 and ran a personal best 18:55.78 to win the Region 5-4A preview meet on Sept. 16.

At Saturday's Lake Murray Invitational, Hughes was not too pleased with her 19:53.66 second-place finish. But it will not be a setback for Dutch Fork's team captain since she has learned to focus on what lies ahead.

Hughes decided to aim for first place for the rest of her senior season. When she returns to Sandhills for the Class 4A state championship, she expects no less than a top-five finish.

"I expect her to finish in the top five in the state just because nothing is going to stop her," Lindler said. "She's just not satisfied unless she's giving more than 100 percent."

Especially not now that she is running to win.