Oaks Christian’s Payton Godsey is the Daily News 2022 girls cross country runner of the year

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Oaks Christian runner Payton Godsey had put a lot behind her at the Garmin RunningLane Cross Country Championships. She had finished unusually far back in the same race last year, and the conditions of the Huntsville, Alabama course were unfavorable.

“I’ve never run in conditions like it,” the junior said of the swampy terrain. “Most of the course was thick, muddy grass. So it was pretty brutal.”

It was humid and it had been raining for nearly two days — uncommon for the early-December, 5,000 meter cross-country event. But that aspect, and the fact that she had finished 157th in the same race a year prior, were hardly on her mind.

Instead, she told herself to run without regrets. That mentality led her to a first-place finish and a time of 17 minutes, 28.3 seconds.

“The whole season it was overcoming a little bit of a mental thing,” Godsey said. “It’s a very difficult sport mentally, so I think I’ve just taken it to the next level. It wasn’t just this one race that I had to overcome, it was the whole season.”

On top of her national title, Godsey won the Division IV CIF State Championships, posting 17:00.1 for the second-best time out of all female runners at the event.

She was second at the Woodbridge Cross Country Classic, clocking 15:51.9 in 3 miles for a new personal record, and won the Division 4 CIF Southern Section finals and the Marmonte League finals.

Godsey’s success is permeating throughout the Oaks Christian cross-country program on both the boys and girls sides, according to coach Wes Smith.

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The Lions’ girls team finished second at the CIF-SS Division 4 finals as well as the CIF Division IV state finals. They were behind JSerra both times, but the state race was much closer with an 11-point differential.

“That confidence and that preparation that she brings to practice every day,” Smith said, “and then her love for those that are around her. I think that’s the piece that’s going to elevate her. When you’re improving, it makes it easy to get motivated.”

Godsey moves into track season with a national title to her name and after that, has her senior year to keep improving. She’ll take a break from racing before it all, putting in miles by herself and with teammates while keeping with the mindset that led her to success this cross-country season.

“At the end of the day, it’s just running,” she said. “And it shouldn’t be any more complicated than just one foot in front of the other.”

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