A stumble. A fall. A disqualification. That's all it took to wake a sleeping giant.
Two years ago, Laura Pace, then a freshman, was disqualified from the championship heat of the 100-meter hurdles at the Class 1A state track and field meet.
With the memory of that fateful day as a motivating factor, Pace cruised to the state title in the 100 hurdles last year.
Now, as a junior, the disqualification is ancient history. Pace has bigger fish to fry, like trying to repeat as champion, break records and add even more state titles to her resume.
"Last year that really motivated me because I wanted to show everybody that I was better than that," Pace said. "It's in the past now. But it's going to be hard to repeat. I'm going to have to work hard to try and outdo myself let alone go for a repeat."
Pace is not only poised to repeat, and possibly three-peat in the 100 hurdles, she could very well add state championships in the triple jump, the 300 hurdles and the long jump in the next two years as well.
At last year's state meet, Pace was fourth in the triple jump and eighth in the 300 hurdles. Now she's added the long jump to her repertoire. But her primary goal this year will be to break the 100 hurdles Class 1A record of 14.80. Her winning time last year was 15.11.
"I also want to try and get two or three state championships this year at state," Pace said. "Winning the triple jump and 100 hurdles are big goals, too. I've also thought about how nice it would be to be a three-time champion in the 100 hurdles. With hard work I think my goals are attainable."
If Pace does accomplish her goals, she could very well become the most accomplished track and field athlete in the lakes area since Brainerd's Kathleen Borgworth. From 1975 to 1978, Borgworth won five state championships, all in the 110- and 180-yard hurdles.
Besides having flawless technique, Pillager hurdles coach Terry Hollingsworth points out that it's Pace's speed that makes her stand out.
"Laura's speed is what sets her apart from other girls," Hollingsworth said. "The 100 hurdles is a sprint and she's fast over the hurdle where other girls are floating or hopping over the hurdle. Laura sprints."
Now that she has a state title under her belt, other competitors will be gunning for Pace. But neither Pace nor Hollingsworth is worried about the target on her back. Her ability to focus on just the race is what helps her win.
"We focus on her technique so much and don't worry about the competition," Hollingsworth said. "When she gets to state it's like second nature. She concentrates on technique and not on the other runners. It'd be hard to say how she would react to a runner being ahead of her because she's never experienced that."
Pace, who's been captain of the Huskies girls' team since her freshman year, has a work ethic to match her accomplishments, despite being known on the team as a bit of a complainer.
"Laura might complain, like every other girl from time to time, that it's too cold or this or that," Pillager head coach Holly Cervin said, "but she's still the one that's out front leading because she knows what she needs to do. She gets things done."
TROY GUNDERSON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5865.
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