MORAVIA — Jenna Morris accomplished her goal for the 2017 season.

The Moravia sophomore set out to compete in the state meet, and qualified by placing fifth in the Section IV, Class D meet at Chenango Valley State Park earlier this month.

Now Morris, The Citizen’s girls cross country runner of the year, is focused on taking the next step at the state meet.

“It’s exhilarating. Once you realize you made it and you’re going? It’s overwhelming. … I’ve done it now, but you still have to take that extra step and keep going to do well at states too,” Morris said.

Morris finished 55th out of 109 in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association’s Class D girls race with a time of 22:58.1 at Wayne Central earlier this month. Morris battled knee issues throughout the season, and the course’s challenging conditions — soft mud, hard ice, uneven terrain and pools of water — only made things worse.

“I was still pushing as hard as I could,” Morris said. “With the mud, I’d get sucked down in and it hurt to come back out, but I pushed through it.”

Moravia coach John Owen believes Morris could have finished higher if the course conditions were better.

“If it wasn’t as muddy of a course — something that was really affecting her leg — her goal had been a top 30 at states and I think — looking at people she’s raced against all year — that was a reasonable goal and close to where she would have been,” Owen said. “Just between the course and how her leg was feeling that day it didn’t work out.”

Although she may not have placed as high as she hoped, Morris’ first appearance at states energized her and her coach.

“Immediately after states, we were like ‘OK, what are we doing next year? How are we going to improve on this and how are we going to get you up even farther?’” Owen said.

The state meet capped quite the season for Morris. She placed second at the IAC Championships, fifth in sectionals and seventh in the Baldwinsville and McQuaid Invitationals despite dealing with Iliotibial Band Syndrome in her right leg. Whenever she runs, there’s a “stabbing pain” because of a band rubbing over a joint in her knee.

Regular stretching and exercising have helped reduce the pain.

“She saw the difference,” Owen said. “If she does the exercises and stretches daily, then her performance is a lot better and there’s less pain.”

Morris is focused on putting her knee problems behind her and getting ready to make another run at the state championship meet last year.

“Before the season Jenna’s goal was to make it to states,” Owen said. “From day one of training, that’s all she’s been thinking about is getting to states. Last year it was just doing well at sectionals. This year she did phenomenally well at sectionals and made it to states. The goal next year?”

“To do really well at states,” Morris answered.

Sports writer Jeremy Houghtaling can be reached at 315-282-2256 or at jeremy.houghtaling@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @CitizenHough.

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