Two record-smashing seasons

True grit: Freshman Whitney Cheng (L) and junior Christy Lubovich delivered stellar performances for the Spartans. - ROGERICK ANAS/Staff Photo
True grit: Freshman Whitney Cheng (L) and junior Christy Lubovich delivered stellar performances for the Spartans.
— image credit: ROGERICK ANAS/Staff Photo

In a spring filled with outstanding performances by Spartan athletes, two individual efforts stand out.

Freshman Whitney Cheng nearly qualified for the state tennis tournament after playing No. 3 girls’ singles during the regular season, while senior Christy Lubovich improved her previous season’s time in the 3200 meters by more than minute and set a school record at the state meet.

Unbeatable season

Cheng started the season with relatively low expectations, even though she had been ranked in the top 20 in the Northwest in 14-and-under girls singles.

“I didn’t know what to expect in high school tennis,” she said.

Opponents soon learned to expect a thrashing as Cheng cruised undefeated through the frequently rain-interrupted regular season, not losing a single set.

Seeded 11th in the Metro tournament, she won her first three matches, two against higher seeds.

Though she lost the following two matches – the second by a score of 5-7, 6-4, 7-5 – she finished a district-qualifying fourth.

“I felt bad – I should have won the last one,” she said. “I was happy to get fourth, but third sounds a ton better.”

She opened district play with an easy win, then lost the second match.

She won a third match to stay alive, but the following morning to a girl who went on to qualify for state and win her opening match there ended Cheng’s season.

“It was just ugly,” she said. “It was one of those experiences that you don’t want to relive. I played terribly, horribly, abominably. It was my worst match ever.”

Nonetheless, Cheng finished the season with a 14-win, four-loss record, recording the most wins by anyone on the team..

Coach Mike Anderson believes that she has a bright future.

“She could easily have over 50 wins in her career,” he said. “She’s already a natural player. She has things to work on, but she can only get better. Her only bad losses were to the state champion.”

Cheng, who plans on playing in numerous tournaments this summer, takes a low-key approach. “I want to go to State,” she said. “But I wouldn’t die if I didn’t go. What happens, happens.”

Record breaker

What happened to Lubovich verges on the improbable.

A modest, likable individual, she had shown gradual but unspectacular improvement since taking up track in the seventh grade.

“It was the first sport I’d ever done,” she said. “I never was really a sports person.”

She began her junior season with a 13:18 clocking and ran 12:36 at the district meet, where she placed a non-state-qualifying sixth.

“I got to stand on the podium for the first time,” she recalled. “I was so excited.”

That excitement carried over to the summer, when she would run after work.

She had a good cross-country season last fall, averaging about a minute faster per mile over her time from the year before and clocking 20:26 for five kilometers at the district meet. She stayed in shape during the interval before track season, often running four miles during PE class.

But her goals entering her final competitive prep season remained modest.

“The only thing I wanted was to get first in a race,” she said. “That seemed like a really cool thing to do.”

That happened quickly. She ran 12:26, a 10-second personal best, for an easy win in her opening meet.

“I was really excited and that got me motivated,” she said

It also got the one-time “non-sports person” to dream a little.

She walked into the gym and noticed that the school record was 11:30. It had been set in 1981.

“I thought I’d see how close I could come,” she said.

The first 30+ seconds came before the Metro League meet. All Lubovich needed to do at Metro to advance to district was finish in the top seven. With the third-best time going in, that seemed a lock.

But then she got sick. Very sick. Yet she showed up at the starting line.

“I didn’t know if I would make it,” she recalled. “It felt like I was running in slow motion, and a couple of times when I came around I was crying.” She clocked a season-worst 12:39 but held on for sixth.

At district the following week, she ran her fastest-ever 1600 meters – 5:37 – and kept going. She finished in 11:38 and all of a sudden that mark high on the gym wall didn’t seem so far away after all.

State had an inauspicious start. Rushing to check in for the race, she stumbled over a metal curb and skinned her knee.

“Running is such a mental thing,” she said. “I thought ‘oh, no, I tripped.’ But once I started running, it didn’t bother me at all.”

Passing the 1600 in another personal best, 5:36, she stayed at the back of the 10-girl lead pack for six laps before it began to fragment.

Lubovich quickly moved into ninth, then made her move to medal – the top eight finishers would receive awards – with 600 meters to go.

But the girl pulled away from her.

“I kept thinking that she’d come back to me,” she said. “But I could tell that I was running out of energy. I wanted to stop, but I knew I still had a chance to medal and get the school record.”

As she came down the final straight, the medal chance was gone. But getting the record remained.

“When I crossed the line, I fell off to the side,” she said. “My muscles just wouldn’t support me. Starting the last lap, I was right at 10 minutes and I didn’t know if I had hung on. I was almost afraid to look at (volunteer coach) Pat (Logan) up in the stands.

“But then I heard his voice. He sounded so excited. ‘You did it, Christy!’ Then it didn’t matter that I didn’t place.”

What did matter was that her 11:28.78 broke the old record by nearly two seconds.

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