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Zirkel brings UIL gold to Medina

by Carolyn B Edwards BCC Writer

Photo by Marcia Wortman
Austin Zirkel overcame mud, a photo finish and a protest to bring home the UIL State Champion Cross Country medal in the boys 1A division.

Photo by Kim MacNaughton
The Medina girls cross country team competed at state, finishing twelfth. Pictured are Madeleine Emmons, Ashley Montague, Laurell Pfeiffer, Emily Mills and Emily Montague.

Photo by Marcia Wortman
State champion Austin Zirkel, right, from Medina passes a Barksdale runner on a very challenging mud course at the state meet Saturday in Round Rock.

A muddy course, a final sprint, a photo finish and a protest. Emotions ran the gamut before Medina sophomore Austin Zirkel was named the state UIL Cross Country Champion Saturday afternoon in Round Rock.
"My goal was to finish in the top ten," said the young runner. "The course was very muddy, but I was in the group of the first ten from the start and stayed there."
Near the end of the race, Zirkel found himself running against Cash Kunkel, another sophomore, from Burton.
A bystander reported, "They began to sprint for the finish, and at the line, Kunkel fell across it, hitting the tape with his hand, but Austin was right there." Kunkel was declared the unofficial winner of the 1A boys competition.
However, at the completion of the event, with all the runners in, the officials spent 45 minutes viewing the photo finish results and checking the microchips every runner wears on their number bib.
After almost an hour, they announced that Zirkel had in fact finished .03 seconds ahead of Kunkel!
Burton immediately protested the results, which sent the officials into an additional 30 minutes of consulting.
"It was so very emotional," said first year Medina CC Coach Rachel Rambin. "For both schools, the runners, the coaches and family and supporters. It was just an up and down thing."
Eventually, the officials made their final decision and came out with the medals. "I really didn't know if I had won until they put the silver medal around Cash's neck!" said Zirkel. Third place medal went to Matthew Smith, a junior from Priddy, who finished at 18:28.34.
This was not the first head-to-head match-up between the two long distance runners. Zirkel bested Kunkel by 24 seconds at the Region 1 finals a few weeks ago, to win the gold medal on the Corpus Christi course.
Rambin said coaching Zirkel has been a pleasure, as he is a very self-motivated athlete. "He runs every day and bikes every day. His endurance is unbelievable," she said. She also credits Zirkel's parents, Brad and Diane Zirkel, for providing plenty of support for Austin. His dad often joins Austin on the bike runs.
Zirkel said he appreciated the support Coach Rambin demonstrated for the cross country runners at Medina High School. "She never missed an early morning practice. She did a great job for her first year coaching."
Rambin was also quite proud of the Medina girls CC team, which qualified for the state meet by finishing fourth at regional's. "They came in 12th out of 16 teams, and they beat all three of the teams that won at regionals." The girls squad, made up of mostly young runners, includes Emily Mills, Madeleine Emmons, Laurell Pfeiffer and two seniors, Emily Montague and Ashley Montague.
Zirkel will take a break from athletics for a short time, "giving his ankles a rest," but is already looking forward to running the one- and two-mile races when track season begins in the spring. In the meantime, he will work on keeping his status as an honor student with a particular interest in history.
Important keys to his success include a philosophy of "push and practice," he said. "And it's important to know your limits."
Asked Monday morning if he had worn his gold State Champion medal to school, Zirkel laughed and said, "No, but I have it in my pocket!"