By David Fong
TROY — Morgan Gigandet giggled at the accusation.
“Really? People say that about me? Who says that about me?” the Troy High School sophomore said as she shifted back and forth in her purple Nikes, her eyes looking quizzical as a series of giggles escaped her lips. “That’s not true. I just run. I just want to go out hard, and if I get up there, I get up there.”
Gigandet has “gotten up there,” as well or better than pretty much every girl in the state this season. When she takes to the course at the Division I state cross country meet Saturday afternoon in Columbus, she’s expected to be one of a small handful of runners who will be contending for the Division I state championship.
The way Troy girls cross country coach Kevin Alexander sees it, Gigandet’s killer instinct on the course has played a big role in making her one of the state’s elite runners.
“Usually she’s pretty tranquil,” Alexander said of Gigandet. “But when she races and when she practices, she turns into a different person. She flips a switch. She’s one of the most competitive kids I’ve ever met. She doesn’t just want to beat the other girls — she wants to bury them. When she’s not running, Morgan is one of the nicest kids around. But when she’s running, it’s a different story.”
Gigandet — a state qualifier last season as a freshman — disputes the claim. She says she never runs out of anger, but rather out of love.
“I don’t really remember an exact moment when I realized I could be pretty good at the sport — I just remember when I figured out it was something I love doing. My goal at state is mainly to go out and give it my all and hopefully place really high. I just want to do well for me team.”
If Gigandet runs like she’s capable of, she’s expected to at least contend for a state title. Her chief competition likely will come from Centerville’s Lainey Studebaker and Hilliard Davidson’s India Johnson. Johnson got the best of Gigandet at the Galion Cross Country Festival in September, while Studebaker — the defending Division I state champion — beat Gigandet at a meet in Centerville.
At last week’s regional meet in Troy, however, Gigandet beat Studebaker by 25 seconds to win a regional title. Gigandet also has turned in the fastest time in the state this season.
All of which means very little in Alexander’s eyes.
“It’s going to come down to who runs the best race Saturday,” he said. “Having the best time in the state doesn’t mean anything in cross country. What happened earlier in the season doesn’t mean anything once you get to state. It’s going to come down to what happens Saturday.”
Gigandet said running at state last season should help her compete better this year.
“I learned a lot,” Gigandet said of her previous trip to state. “I learned everyone comes out fast — it’s almost like a sprint for the first 100 meters. Actually, it’s almost like a spring for the whole first mile. I just want to go out strong like I always do.”
Alexander said Gigandet has a few other things working in her favor, as well.
“Obviously, she’s got the endurance and athleticism,” he said. ” And I’ll tell you this — in my 15 years coaching, she might have the highest race IQ of anyone I’ve ever been around. If she gets beat, she can tell me exactly what and why it happened. When she’s in mid-race, she can adjust and fix things. Not a lot of high school kids can do that. Plus, she’s got that killer instinct.”
Contact David Fong at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter @thefong