COLUMBUS — Her goal was a top 15 finish and that is exactly what she got.
Mount Vernon High School senior Sarah Baker (18:57.36) finished 14th among Division I girls in Saturday’s 2009 OHSAA Cross Country Championships at Scioto Downs.
With her outstanding performance, Baker became All-Ohio for the second year in a row and climbed further up the podium from last year.
“I was thinking of a top 10 in my mind, but a top 15 is still podium and I should just be happy with that,” said Baker. “I finished out with a good senior year.”
Baker started fast and doggedly hung on throughout the race despite being tripped up in the first mile. Fortunately, she made up the lost ground quickly.
“I just looked to see who was going my pace and I ended up staying with them,” said Baker. “Once I got to the hill, I just start passing girls because I knew I was about 16th and I knew how to get up. I just started passing as many girls as I could. I knew I was in good shape to be top 15.”
“It was an absolutely terrific race,” said Mount Vernon girls cross country coach Pat Gray. “We wanted her to start off in the top 15 and then some girls were going to come and go with the emotions of a big race. Sarah was just going to hang tight and cut it loose the last half-mile and that’s what she did to get 14th. She was tired and so were the other girls and, at that point, it just comes down to who wants it more. Sarah wanted it more. She passed three girls and one got her at the line but it was enough to get 14th.”
Baker exuded a quiet confidence leading right up to race time that might have led one to believe that good things were in store for her. That confidence was evident as she jumped out quickly and battled for position at the start.
“I had five days to be nervous so, when I woke up (Saturday) morning, I knew today was the day and I said, ‘Don’t be nervous. Just go out and try your best,’ so that’s how I went out today. I got my goal,” said Baker.
“I think, having been here the past two years, she knew exactly what was going to go on,” said Gray. “She knew what the crowd was going to be like, how to handle the emotions that go along with a big race and she really focused in. A lot of people get distracted, but she had a lot of heart and determination. She knew what she wanted to do and was really focused on it.”
The returning Johnstown Johnnie girls, led by Megan Schulze, placed seventh as a team in the Division III girls race at 20:45.58.
“We have such a great team,” said Schulze. “We really support each other. We bond all the time and we are so close. Just to come out and show Johnstown what we can do and representing Johnstown is such an honor. We had a very good season and we met most of our goals.”
The young Centerburg Trojans, although they finished 16th, were pleased to end their season at Scioto Downs. Being there was a dream come true. For junior Victoria Holt (73rd, 21:07.10) it was the realization of a hard-earned goal.
“I am so proud of the team,” said Holt. “I love our coaches and I am so glad we made it. I’m so happy. It doesn’t matter where we finished. It’s just the thought that we made it. I wish I could have done better. My head started hurting during the run.”
She, and the other runners, battled the southerly winds that kicked up when she came back into the grandstand area.
“It’s definitely really tough and, when you don’t have a lot of people around you, you have to battle (the wind) yourself,” said Holt. “The wind was making my head worse.”
Schulze had her own way to neutralize the wind. She was, however, having a battle of her own.
“I was looking forward to (the wind),” said Schulze. “We’ve been working on ways to scream to get the adrenaline pumping. I was having a problem with sciatica, and it was unbearable the first or second mile. I was able to pass one or two people on the straight-away, but it was hard and I was glad it was over. I’m happy with it.”
Centerburg senior Brett Teiga placed 104th at 21:54.06, but she was outpaced by freshman teammate Amelia Holt, who gained 99th place at 21:47.22.
The younger Holt, one of three Trojans freshman, did not wilt under the pressure and neither did her young teammates. She knows that the Trojans have a good shot at getting back to Scioto Downs.
“It means a lot to me, as a freshman, because we have four varsity girls on the team that are freshmen,” Amelia said.
Amelia Holt is part of an infusion of younger talent that has bounded extremely well with the upperclassmen and has turned Centerburg into a cross country powerhouse.
“The bounding took place in camp when we had team bounding and conversations about how we felt about this team,” she said. “We did a lot of talking and talked about how our goal was that we were going to make it to state and we are proud to make it this far. I think we can make it next year, too — even though we are losing Brett.”
Centerburg coach Sean Sweeney was emotional as he talked about the Trojans’ season.
“I have never been so proud of any group, ever, in my whole life,” said Sweeney. “This is my 11th year of coaching at Centerburg and I am so incredibly proud. They went out like champions. They were in great positions. They’ve learned and I see great things from them. I don’t care what our place is. I am just so proud of them.”
Also finishing for the Trojans were Ali Socie (129th, 22:43.99), Alyssa Burton (132nd, 22:50.04) and Gabrielle O’Donnell (143rd, 24:12.27).
Other Division III girls finishers were Johnstown’s Erin Radigan (59th, 20:54.46), Stephanie Loshbough (67th, 20:59.60), Kaila Kramer (79th, 21:13.34), Brittany Lynch (114th, 22:07.48), Katrina Cartwright (123rd, 22:26.58) and Sarah Mast (135th, 23:10.76).
The Fredericktown boys, who placed 14th in Division III, performed well in the face of adversity. With their usual lead runner Isaac Potes still hurting from a hamstring injury he received about five weeks ago, it was time for the rest of the Freddies to step up and they did it.
Delaney McGuire (17:05.26, 40th) in his final run as a senior, gave the run of his life. Not only did he PR, but he also ran ahead of the ailing Potes and led the Freddies. By the time the boys ran, the winds had died down and the mercury had passed the 65 degree mark, so warmth was starting to be a factor. McGuire, who gave it everything he had, was just relieved that the race was over.
“I felt horrible,” he said. “Then I got across the (finish) line and it felt good after that. It’s definitely the hottest (run) in a while.”
After slogging through the rain and mud all year, McGuire was happy to be on a dry course.
“This is the driest course I’ve ran all year, except our first meet and that one was a hundred-and-some degrees out,” said McGuire. “These were beautiful conditions, though.”
Potes (17:08.83), a previous All-Ohioan, struggled to a 44th-place finish — more than three seconds behind McGuire. Potes knew he didn’t have his usual kick on Saturday.
“Really, I thought I would do a lot better at the start,” said Potes. “I knew, as the race went on, I just started to totally die. I couldn’t really go any faster than I was. I just tried to do the best I could, today and that’s about all I had.”
The layoff took its toll on Potes, but motivated his teammates.
“I passed Isaac,” said McGuire. “That was about the only time I had seen any of my teammates out there. You can’t miss two weeks of practice and then come out here and do wonderful. Once Isaac left practice, we all just sort up stepped it up and really put our heart into it.”
“Once I knew that I was dying, I was actually hoping that Delaney would come up and beat me because it is his senior year,” said Potes. “Also, if he beat me, that means he did pretty good today. I saw Delaney go by in the last little stretch and I was thinking, ‘Yes!’ and ‘No,’ at the same time.”
For Fredericktown junior Sean Kennedy, back at the state for a second time, it was all he could do to hold on.
“The pace was faster than I thought it was going to be,” he said. “I got tripped right after the start up on the corner and Garrett (Gatton) ended up passing me. Someone kicked my legs out. It happens.”
Kennedy picked himself up and passed a few other runners to finish 117th with a time of 18:30.89. Gatton was 115th, finishing in 18:26.11.
For all of the Freddies struggles, 2009 ended the right way.
“This is where you end the season — at the state meet,” said Fredericktown coach Denny Stevens. “It’s as far as you can go and it’s a great group of kids to work with. We had a good day for it, too. I’m very pleased. Delaney had a sensational race. They just wanted to come out and do the best that they could, they did and we are proud of them.”
“It’s really something else to go to the state cross country out of 250-some teams and to be one of the 16,” said Freddies senior runner Jamison Shipley (146th, 20:32.87), who was pleased to be able to go out with a state berth.
Trey Divelbiss was 135th for the Freddies at 19:16.55, while freshman teammate Nick Gaumer was 147th at 20:52.53.