Cross country

Belton’s Olivia Brillhart competes this week at the UIL state cross country championships at Old Settlers Park in Round Rock.

BELTON — Olivia Brillhart doesn’t typically finish every race with a kick. That’s not to say she can’t, though, when the situation calls for it.

“I normally sprint at the beginning,” the Belton freshman cross country runner said. “I think that’s a good strategy for me because I need to be as far up as I can to be able to do well. So, I don’t really save any for the end. That just kind of happened that one race.”

The race Brillhart was referring to was the Class 6A, Region II championship, during which she tapped her reserves in the final stretch to pull ahead five spots on her way to a 14th-place finish with a time of 18 minutes, 58.32 seconds, thus sewing up a berth in this week’s state meet.

Brillhart is one of 39 area runners who will take part in Friday and Saturday’s UIL state cross country meets at Round Rock’s Old Settlers Park.

The Class 6A girls division, in which Brillhart will compete, runs at 11:30 a.m. Saturday.

“One of the coaches that was coaching one of the other girls told her what spot she was in,” Brillhart said of the regional race. “She was in, like, 18th I think, and I was right behind her, so I knew I was in 19th. I was worried I wouldn’t make it (to qualify for state), so I just decided I needed to sprint and catch some people in the end, and that’s what I did.”

Belton cross country coach Holly Lamberte said that’s the type of athlete Brillhart has shown herself to be — simply a competitor.

“She’s strong,” Lamberte said. “I don’t have to do much with her because she is so mentally and physically ready when she gets on the line. She’s like, ‘I’m going to do this,’ and you don’t have to say much to her. She’s like, ‘this is what I’m doing, and this is how it’s going to be.’”

Brillhart said she usually gets nervous before a race, but it hasn’t shown in her results. To be fair, Brillhart said once she gets lined up and gets acquainted with her surroundings, her nerves usually calm down. Then she gets down to work.

In nine meets this fall, she has recorded seven top-three finishes, including one first-place result at Lampasas on Sept. 30.

The skinny 13-year-old who also swims — her specialty in the pool is sprint races, oddly enough — said long-distance running has always felt natural to her.

While growing up, Brillhart began running with her mother, Karen, who competes in marathons and half-marathons.

“Whenever I was like, eight, I think that was the first time I ever ran three miles and we just went out and ran it,” Brillhart said of running with her mom. “Then after that, I knew I could do it, so I would go out and do it every once in a while with her.”

It was when she got to junior high at South Belton Middle School that she began taking it a little more seriously.

“I never really knew I was good at it until like the seventh grade,” she said. “I just knew that I could run.”

Brillhart moved to Belton Middle School for her eighth-grade year, and Lamberte said she took notice of her there.

“We watched her when she was over at BMS and she was very competitive over there,” the coach said. “I think it’s just maturity and competitiveness. She’s gotten to the point now where she understands this is big time, where before, it was kind of like, ‘I enjoy doing this and this is something I seem to be good at.’”

Standing about 5-foot-10, Brillhart is taller than average and has a long stride when she runs. She said she thinks that works to her advantage, but more importantly, she said, is keeping herself mentally focused.

“I’ve noticed that if I keep a positive attitude and just be positive during a race, that it helps me a lot,” she said. “Because it’s hard to stay positive at, like, mile two of the race, because I just want to stop running. But you have to keep going.”

Her work ethic, Lamberte said, along with her willingness to be coached, also give her an edge.

“She’s just very competitive,” the coach said. “I think that’s kind of her background. I think when she gets out there, she just goes after the people that are in front of her, if there is any. She’s really competitive and tries to take people out at the end.”

Lamberte said the state course in Round Rock is similar to the one at Grand Prairie’s Lynn Creek Park, where the regional meet was held. Like the regional event, it is a 5K trek, which is roughly 3.1 miles, rather than the 3-mile races that Brillhart ran for most of the season.

Lamberte said they will travel to the state meet a day early, in order to familiarize themselves more with the layout.

“We’re going to go down there Friday, pick up the packet, and she’s going to walk the course so she can kind of see where she is,” Lamberte said. “And we can make some strategies while we’re there and things like that.”

Working on a 5K course, it’s in that extra tenth of a mile where the kick usually comes in, and should it come down to that, the Belton coach likes Brillhart’s chances.

“I think at region, she was just like, ‘My time isn’t what it normally is,’” Lamberte said. “Well, you had a point-one (of a mile) left. But I think the point-one is whoever’s got more guts and I think she might be able to catch a lot of people at that last surge because she is strong and she is competitive.”