Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
CHILLICOTHE — When Elayna Gunnoe was in junior high, her mother was hesitant to let her run any hurdles for fear of an uncoordinated injury.
“She always told me I was too clumsy and that I would fall on my face,” Gunnoe said, laughing. “She calls me ‘Grace’ because I’m not graceful.”
It’s funny how things in life eventually work out.
Gunnoe, now a senior, doesn’t just run the hurdles. They’re her favorite, and best, events. In fact, she’ll be running hurdles at West Liberty University next year — she signed her letter of intent to play soccer and run track for the Hilltoppers in April.
At last week’s SVC Meet, Gunnoe helped Unioto’s girls win the conference title by winning the 300-meter hurdles (50.34) and finishing second in the 100 hurdles (17.46). She also scored points in the high jump (eighth, 4-feet-10) and long jump (fifth, 14-8.75).
Now, she turns her focus towards this weekend’s Division II district finals … where she’ll compete in three events and where she’s set high goals for herself and her teammates.
“We won the SVC and the district, on the girls side, in my sophomore year,” Gunnoe said. “I’m hoping we can repeat that this year. We’ve got a good shot at doing so. I just love competing with my teammates. If we weren’t good friends outside of school, we wouldn’t be able to have that competitiveness.”
Out of the four events she usually participates in, there’s no question the 300 hurdles is her favorite. It’s where she feels most comfortable and it’s an event that allows her to use her best characteristics.
“It’s not as much of a sprint. In the 100 hurdles, my form isn’t the best,” Gunnoe said. “That’s why I’m not as good in that event. In the 300, if I don’t do well on a hurdle, I can make up time with my speed.”
Participating in this week’s preliminaries, Gunnoe qualified for the 300 hurdle finals with a mark of 52.79 seconds, good enough for eighth place. She also qualified in the 100 hurdles, placing seventh with a finish time of 18.08.
“In the 300-meter hurdles, my sophomore year, I ran a 48.94 and our school record is a 48-flat,” Gunnoe said. “My goal is to run a high 47 to, hopefully, get the school record. If not, I want to make the regional semifinals. I’m just going to give it my all. My track coaches from West Liberty have been keeping in touch with me, asking how I’ve done in my events. So it’s promising.”
Gunnoe’s regional qualification ticket has yet to be punched. Her performance at Saturday’s Division II district track meet at Washington Court House will determine her regional status.
But no matter the results this weekend, she’s thankful for a head coach in Brian Netter and fellow seniors Andi Lafreniere and McKayla Thompson, who have all helped her along the way.
“I started with Netter my eighth grade year, so this is my fifth year with him as a coach,” Gunnoe said. “Just the growth I’ve seen, it’s been nice to have someone like that see the potential I had and for it go past high school, into college, that means a lot. Andi, McKayla and I have ran track together since I was in junior high. It’s crazy to see how things have changed. Even though we’re not in the same events anymore, we still push each other and we still support each other.”
If she wants to qualify for the Division II regional meet, Gunnoe knows she’ll have to run much better than she did in the preliminary events. Each day this week, she’s worked hard on improving her times and keeping her focus … even with everything going on off the track.
“It’s hard to keep your focus but that’s what you have to do,” Gunnoe said. “Last year, school was still going on heading into regionals. I at least had that everyday routine. Next week, if I can get into regionals, I have to make sure I stay in a routine even though I won’t be at school. That’s the goal.”