Edmond North sophomore distance runner Liesel Kehoe had just broken the Oklahoma high school 3200-meter record, but she didn’t believe it.
“I didn’t think that I had done it,” recalled Kehoe, who won the race by more than a minute. “I had set my watch too early so my time was way off. We weren’t sure what the record was and somebody said I had run a 10:36. I was really confused and didn’t believe anybody.”
It was, in fact, a new state record. Her official time of 10:36.44 bettered her previous best mark by 15 seconds and topped the record set last year by Bixby’s Cayden Dawson, who clocked a 10:37.57.
“She was like, ‘I’m going to try and break the record today,’ said Edmond North track coach Cara Bowerman. “She was ready. It was windy and she was by herself. No one was near her. It was amazing.”
Kehoe and Dawson faced off against each other three weeks later at the Owasso Invitational. Kehoe came out on top and bettered her state record by six seconds, finishing in 10:30.30.
“That day was really special because I got to race Cayden,” said Kehoe. “I was really excited to get to race her. I knew whoever won the race that day was going to walk away with the state record.”
Kehoe burst onto the scene this past fall, where she finished fifth at the 6A state cross country meet.
“Between her freshman and sophomore year, she took a giant leap,” stated Bowerman, who has spent the last nine years at Edmond North. “She came out in cross country just so strong. We started at Deer Creek and she ran SO hard. She was running with Payton Hinkle of Broken Arrow, one of the best runners in the state. I thought there was no way she was going to stay with her, and she did. She’s just continued to get better. There’s a reason she took a giant leap. She’s been working hard.”
“Honestly, I think it was focusing more on being the healthiest person I could be rather than being the fastest person,” remarked Kehoe. “As soon as I started taking a step back and focusing on being the healthiest and happiest person I could be, I started enjoying it more and I just got faster.”
Along with mastering the mental side of distance running, Kehoe and her coaches have been careful not to overtrain.
“My coaches are really good about not letting me do too much,” admitted Kehoe. “I’m very thankful that I have coaches that care about me being healthy and not doing too much.”
The Huskies are fortunate to have several talented distance runners this season, which allows Kehoe to focus on just running the mile and two-mile races.
“We have a ton of good middle distance girls, so we’re in a really nice position where we haven’t had to ask her to contribute to the 4 x 800 and other relays,” said Bowerman. “She’s able to flourish in the long-distance events.”
“I love all the girls that I get to run with in the DMR,” acknowledged Kehoe. “It’s really fun getting to run with them. It’s such a fun event because it doesn’t happen very often, so when you get to run it, it’s a really special occasion.”
Despite being just a sophomore, Bowerman says Kehoe provides plenty of team leadership.
“She definitely leads by example,” praised Bowerman. “She’s humble. She’s quiet, but confident. She’s strong. She’s SO kind. She’s completely well-rounded and just a great human being.”
Only four runners have ever broken 11 minutes at the Oklahoma girl’s state track meet (Brianna McLeod of Jenks set the record in 2003 at 10:50.34). This year alone, there are four 6A runners who have eclipsed the 11-minute mark.
Along with Kehoe, Dawson and Hinkle, Avery and Deborah Mazzei of Jenks make up the deepest group of distance runners in state history.
“It’s insane this year,” admitted Kehoe. “It’s so competitive. Two years ago in cross country, there were two girls who ran the 5K under 19 minutes. This year, there were 10 girls under 19 minutes and three under 18 minutes.”
“It’s really an amazing time for girl’s distance running in Oklahoma,” said Bowerman. All of these girls are exceptional, once-in-a-lifetime athletes and they’re all doing it at the same time.”
“These times that they’re running, anyone could be a state champion in any other year,” added Bowerman. “It’s something Oklahoma has never seen before.”
It’s all setting up for an amazing finish. The 6A state track meet on May 13-14 in Ardmore could be the site of the best 3200m race in state history.
“I’m really excited to see what we can all do when we’re all racing each other at the same time because I think it will be really special.”