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Sure it's cross country, but clutch showings by Vaughn, Harper would impress any fan of sports

Justin Harper Modified: May 13, 2013 at 3:23 pm •  Published: October 28, 2007

By Justin Harper, Staff Writer
Granted, it’s week 10 of the high school football season, so few folks are paying much attention to cross country. But even football fans should appreciate what a pair of cross country runners did this season. Tulsa Union’s Sara Vaughn and Plainview’s Amber Harper (nope, not related) each repeated as state champions this year even though both were not the favorites heading into their state meets. And how rare is that? Generally, if you’re the defending state champ, you’re considered the big dog until someone proves they can beat you.
Thing is, that’s just what happened with both Vaughn and Harper.
Harper, a sophomore, had a remarkable finish to this season. Nobody expected her to win the Class 2A crown again because she had not won a race all season heading into regionals. Now, Harper was always in the top three, but her teammates Kaili Tucker and Tess Lackey always crossed the finish line ahead of her. The main reason was because Harper had knee surgery which caused her to miss out on training the whole summer. And while she wasn’t even supposed to be able to run at better than 75 percent this season, she worked her way back to 100 percent in less than four months. Harper’s long road back led to her first win at regionals, then she defied the odds and won state again just a week later. In winning the title, Harper not only beat her teammates, both of whom are track state champions, she bested Kevi Luper of Adair, who is the two-time defending state champ in the 800 meters.
Vaughn’s story isn’t quite as dramatic, but it’s still pretty cool. Basically, it’s all about being clutch and coming through when the chips are down. Vaughn won all but two races she ran this season, and yet she wasn’t considered the favorite to win the 5A title Saturday at Mitch Park in Edmond. That’s because of the progress of Westmoore’s Katelin Cherry. Cherry, who was state runner-up to Vaughn last year, seemed to have got over the hump against Vaughn this year. After Vaughn swept Cherry in four races in 2006, Cherry beat Vaughn for the track state title in the 3,200 meters (the same distance as the cross country race) last spring. Then this fall, Cherry twice beat Vaughn at Mitch Park, both times by more than 10 seconds. Nevertheless, Vaughn was big-time Saturday. She not only beat Cherry, who placed second again, she beat her by a whopping 13 seconds. That’s an eternity considering the two have had three 1-2 finishes of two seconds or less in previous races.
Making their second crowns even more impressive was the fact that of four returning state champions (Piedmont’s Jori Davis in 3A and McGuinness’ Molly Ferguson in 4A were back to defend their 2006 titles), only Harper and Vaughn pulled it off.
Sure, it’s cross country, but those were impressive feats. If you like sports, you like players who come through in the clutch. That’s what happened here.