Profile: Skyline’s O’Brien looking forward to her third lap around MIS

Laura O’Brien kept pace with consistency all season for the Skyline girls’ cross country team. The junior runner finished among the top 10 in all but one of her 11 races this past season including 10th place at Saturday’s D-1 Regional at DeWitt.

O’Brien heads to Saturday’s MHSAA State Finals at MIS with a few goals in mind and a solid regular season behind her. Her finish at Regionals was another check off this season’s to-do list.

“My goals going into Regionals were to qualify for the State Meet as an individual and also to help my team qualify,” she said. “I was also hoping for a PR. The race went well and I managed to qualify individually, although we had a tough day as a team.”

This year’s Regional featured some very strong competition led by winner Brighton, Howell and Okemos. Her time of 19:09.1 was less than a second from eighth place as East Lansing’s Anna Delgado (eighth, 19:08.1) and Brighton’s Amelia Kashian (ninth, 19:08.1) led a three-runner sprint across the finish line.

“The region seemed a lot more competitive this year than last year,” O’Brien said. “I took it out hard at the beginning, but fell off the front pack during the middle mile of the race. I was able to hold on for 10th place and run close to my PR, but I would have liked to place higher and get a faster time.”

O’Brien’s PR came on Oct. 12 when she ran 18:59.9 at the Gabriel Richard Invitational where she placed sixth.   

O’Brien, 16, is quite familiar with MIS and that experience should help her on Saturday. “This will be my third year competing at the cross country state meet,” she said. “As a freshman, I went with the team, as we were able to qualify for the first time in school history.”

She finished sixth at last year’s Regional to qualify for the state meet where she finished 62nd with a time of 19:13.7.

One of her goals this year at MIS is to run a PR but the weather may make it tough on her and the rest of the field. “It’s looking like it will be very muddy as usual, so I’m not sure how relevant times will be,” she said. “I think I’m seeded around 60th in the field, so I’d love to move up as many places as I can. Getting All-State is a long shot, but if I find myself in contention during the race, I’m planning to go for it.

“Overall, I just want to race hard and give it all I’ve got. This race will finish off my season, so I want to end on a high note.” 

While the Eagles didn’t qualify for the State Meet as a team, O’Brien said the Eagles still had a very successful season overall.

“The end of our season was disappointing as we were hoping to qualify for the State Meet as a team, but I don’t want to let that overshadow the things we’ve achieved this season,” she said. “As a team, we’ve placed strongly at several of the invitationals we’ve attended, and everyone on the team has been committed to working hard from the beginning of the season.”

The highlight of her season has been “watching my teammates grow over the season and gain confidence in themselves.”

“We had a lot of people join the team this year without a lot of experience with the sport, but they all rose to the challenge and did amazing,” she says. “Cross country is a sport where you get out exactly what you put into it, so I’m proud of everyone for the hard work they put in this year.”

Laura, the daughter of Suzanne Admiraal and Patrick O’Brien, also runs track at Skyline and is in the school choir. Her running starting line was way back in elementary school. 

“Running’s been an important part of my life since elementary school, when I participated in the Girls on the Run program,” she says. “I tried a lot of different sports around that same time, but I chose to focus on running throughout middle school, although it wasn’t super competitive.

“When I arrived at Skyline, I went in knowing that I wanted to be on the cross country team. It was a big step up in terms of competitiveness, but I’ve had a lot of fun with the sport so far. I’m excited to see where cross country takes me in the future.”

She hopes it takes her to college.

“After high school, I definitely want to keep running,” she says. “Running on a college team is a goal of mine, but I don’t have a clear plan at the moment for what that will look like. As I’m looking at colleges over the next year, finding a running team will be an important consideration. A dream of mine is to run for a Division 1 school if they’ll have me.”