Injury-free, runner Skarda excels

Alexis Skarda was the first woman to finish the Mesa St College Cross Country race.

Alexis Skarda could possibly be running for a Division I program, but injuries curtailed that option.

Thankfully for Mesa State College, the freshman from Boulder is running cross country for the Mavericks and is the first Mesa State runner to qualify for the NCAA Division II national championships.

Skarda is one of 184 women competing in the women’s race. It is slated for an 11:15 a.m. (MST) start Saturday at Cooper’s Lake Campground in Slippery Rock, Pa. The field features 23 individual qualifiers and 24 team qualifiers.

“I haven’t thought about (personal goals for nationals) much,” Skarda said. “I’m excited to see the best competition in the nation and see where I fall.

“I don’t know what to expect. We were in a tough region, so I’m hoping for top 25 and make All-American. I would like to go under 22 minutes.”

Her best time is 22:06 in the Nebraska-Kearney Open in early October.

The national championship course is on a hilly golf course similar to the regional course, Mesa State coach Gig Leadbetter said, but Skarda and the Central Regional qualifiers may have an advantage running at a lower altitude.

RMAC champion and top-ranked Adams State is looking for its sixth consecutive national title. The Grizzlies’ closest competition is expected to come from No. 2 Grand Valley State, No. 3 Augustana (S.D.) and No. 4 Western State.

Skarda grew up running with her dad, who once competed in the U.S. Olympic Trials, but after finishing in the top 12 in the Colorado state cross country championships in 2005 and 2006, she was plagued by injuries.

She sustained a stress fracture in an ankle, then pulled a leg muscle and developed tendinitis. As a result of the injuries, Skarda couldn’t qualify or participate in the 2007 state championships her senior year of high school.

“It was frustrating my senior year,” she said. “I had a lot of goals, but I had injury after injury. When my times improved, I would get injured again.

“I was worried about it. I hadn’t decided where I wanted to go (to college). I was talking to Metro State and (the University of) New Mexico. Metro was going to give me a good deal, (then) my dad and I came here and talked to Gig. We decided that day we really liked Gig. I was hoping for more options, but I didn’t have them because of the injuries.”

Leadbetter was well aware of her injuries, but after talking to her high school coach wasn’t concerned about recruiting her.

“I looked at her times (in high school) and noticed her times were getting better and better,” Leadbetter said. “I talked to her coach and he said she is fast, but injury prone. I thought her training was the cause.

“I knew that we needed to keep her on soft stuff. We kept her training on grass and dirt for a while. It seemed to work. There’s a point where athletes over-do it and they need to be aware of that.”

That strategy has worked.

Skarda has been injury-free this season and led the Mavericks in every race, earning All-RMAC and All-Region honors.

Leadbetter is hoping Skarda can finish in the top 30 and receive All-America honors, but says that may be a lot to ask of a freshman.

“She has the potential to be in the top 30,” Leadbetter said. “She finished eighth in the toughest region in the country.

“I’m lucky she stayed healthy. She’s still gung-ho to run.

“A lot of runners get pushed to the brink and it turns them off.

“That’s not what we do, I want all of my athletes to still love running after they’re done.”


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