RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas –
Randolph High School freshman Elena Gumbs closed an impressive first season of cross-country last week, using a swift finish to capture the 2A gold medal at the University Interscholastic League state championships.
The top 35 runners all finished within a minute of one another, creating a crowded dash to the finish line behind Randolph's champion. Nearly 100 girls competed for the crown at Old Settlers Park in Round Rock, north of Austin.
"I really don't know what to feel right now because I didn't expect it," said Gumbs, the daughter of retired Master Sgt. Philip and Tina Gumbs. "It's been exciting because everyone at school has been coming up to me and congratulating me."
Gumbs overtook Colleen Adams of Wall High School in the final stretch to win the 2A state championship with a time of 11:42.5. She finished in second place at the Region IV meet a week before, when Courtney Haass of Navarro's Geronimo High topped her by almost 20 seconds.
"Elena had a 12:32 time at district then a 12:09 at regionals," Randolph cross-country coach Edward Padilla said. "The fact that she cut the time even further, with her best mark at the state meet, is really amazing. Our goal was to try and beat some of the good runners we've seen around this area and she's gone and done that, plus some."
Gumbs initially impressed Randolph coaches during physical education classes, when RHS students are routinely instructed to run a mile.
"We time them once a week and she always put up good numbers," said Padilla. "She is such a competitor that she always did well in those Wednesday runs and she was just as good when she started real competitions against athletes at other schools."
Gumbs ran earlier this year in the University of Texas-San Antonio Ricardo Roma Classic, winding up fourth among a pack at the front that included runners from Poth, Karnes City and Incarnate Word - Corpus Christi. These, among other meets, helped prepare her for success at the state championships.
"She is at a different level, with athletics, than we usually have at Randolph," Padilla said, adding that it wasn't to say that many great athletes had not come through the school system. "She has played in leagues away from school and Amateur Athletics Union sports so she knows about seeing good competition in multiple sports."
Gumbs was the only Randolph runner to advance to the state meet, but Padilla said Tonisha Morrison had a strong performance at the Region IV event. Randolph also got good runs from Mark Hopkins and Tyler Rubio on the boys' side at the regional.
"It's the first time I've run competitively," Gumbs said of her 2008 campaign. "I didn't even know cross country was a sport and I didn't know what the different distances, for track and field, really meant.
"For basketball, I go to a personal fitness trainer and we always start out by running a mile or two. I was keeping up with the boys, most of the time, and saw there that I could be good at distance running.
A starting point guard for the Ro-Hawks basketball girls, Gumbs also said she hopes to someday play in the WNBA. Gumbs has an early start on one of her goals -- a college scholarship -- by maintaining all A's on her report card so far this year.
She won first place at the District 27-2A and second at the Region IV cross country meets prior to her state championship success.
"I am fortunate to be doing what I do and I plan to take it one day at the time," Gumbs said. "I want to work hard and take it slow. I want to enjoy it."