When it was announced that Pahrump Valley would be moving up to Class 4A this school year, state cross country and track observers had only one name come to mind — McKenzie Dean.
If not for a twist of fate that elevated Pahrump Valley from 3A to begin her senior year, Dean probably would have coasted to her third state cross country championship (she skipped cross country as a freshman) and added three more state titles in track — the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 meters — to the seven she already has.
Maybe she still will. But it won’t be easy.
In cross country, Dean has measured up well against 4A competition in Southern Nevada, placing among the leaders at invitationals and running comparable times with the top 4A runners. But until this year, she had the luxury of not having to run against the likes of Mel Lawrence (Reno) or Kelsey Smith (South Tahoe), who each won a 4A state title the last two years while Dean was cruising to victory in 3A.
Dean acknowledges that the jump to 4A could be tough, especially considering she is trying to recover from plantar fasciitis in her left foot.
“I will definitely be competing, though; that is for sure,” Dean said. “Yes, it will be much harder than competing against just 3A runners, but I am ready for the challenge.”
Dean is a classic front runner in track and cross country. She tends to use her natural speed, being a two-time 800 state champion, and take off fast at the start.
Asked what person in sports she most emulates, Dean quickly named Steve Prefontaine, the famed American middle- and long-distance runner of the 1970s. “Pre” died in a car accident at age 24 in 1975.
“He was an athlete who all throughout growing up was always too small or too little to play sports like football but found running,” Dean said. “He did it all by himself; there was no one in Coos Bay, Ore., pushing him but himself. He was a front runner and loved to win.”
Parallels? Small girl, small town, did it all by herself, loves to run and loves to win.
But Dean’s rise to 4A won’t be easy for another reason. Pahrump Valley has never qualified for state as a team since she has been there and it’s unlikely this year. She will, indeed, be on her own.
But like Prefontaine before her, she lives by his quote: “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”
Dean said, “He motivates me to try my hardest in whatever I do throughout life, especially running. I’ll be ready for state.”