OBETZ — The power is in the pack.
That was the motto this year for the West Liberty-Salem Big Orange girls cross country team.
While this year’s team may not have had a star runner like some of the teams of the past, the Big Orange carried on the program’s successful tradition by relying on a team full of high quality runners.
That was on full display here Saturday in the Division III state meet meet as the Big Orange captured a fourth-place team finish.
It was the program’s fifth top-five state finish in five years.
“Coming in, we thought a top-five finish would be a very successful day for us,” said head coach Ann Vogel. “The girls performed extremely well. We beat some teams that were ranked above us during the season. The girls ran their hearts out. I was absolutely thrilled for them.”
The Big Orange did not have a runner finish higher than 34th — freshman Malia Miller led the team in that spot with a time of 19:48.2.
However, WL-S had four runners finish in the top 62 and two more in the top 112 in a field of 182 competitors.
“We’ve said all season that our pack is our super power,” said Vogel. “The girls know that if every one of them works hard and does their job, we are going to have a successful performance.”
Junior Ashley Yoder finished 44th (20:03), junior Addison McAuley was 58th (20:20.8), freshman Breece Gullet was 62nd (20:23.8) and junior Claire Longshore was 109th (21:35.9).
Also for the Big Orange, junior Taylor Kennedy was 112th (21:37.6) and freshman Gwen McCullough finished 134th (22:13.4).
“These girls are so close and they truly care so much for each other,” said Vogel. “I don’t know if I’ve ever had a team as close as this one. Even the 11 other girls on the team that didn’t run were lined up along the course supporting their teammates. When we got home, the girls didn’t want to leave each other. That means more to mean than anything else.”
While the WL-S cross country program has produced a long line of standout teams, Vogel pointed out that this squad took nothing for granted and put in the work necessary to place it among the best in school history.
“Ultimately, it’s up to the girls to put the work in,” said Vogel. “I can talk on and on about the culture of the program and running to the standard we have established, but they have to want to do it. And these girls dedicated themselves to putting the work in that is required of finishing in the top five at the state meet.”
Minster won the Division III team title with 63 points. Ft. Loramie was the state runner-up with 119 points, Colonel Crawford was third with 164 points, the Big Orange had 163 points and Liberty Center rounded out the top five with 184 points.
The individual state champion was Anna’s Paige Steinke, who ran a time of 17:46.1. She beat the second-place runner by nearly 20 seconds.