HEBRON — The machine that is the West Liberty girls track and cross country program engineered another dazzling moment here Saturday morning.
The Big Orange girls cross country squad finished as the state runner-up in the Division III race at National Trail Raceway, capturing their highest state finish in school history. Their previous best state performance was third in 2011.
“This is such a great feeling,” said WL-S sophomore sensation Grace Adams, who finished third overall in a time of 18:42.4. “We race as a family. We run for each other and for Jesus Christ. I just love being a part of this team.”
Minster won the Division III state title for the fourth year in a row. The Wildcats tallied 79 points, finishing 10 points in front of the Big Orange. Ft. Loramie was one point behind WL-S in third with 90 points.
“The girls showed so much composure today,” said longtime head coach Ann Vogel. “We were in fifth after the first 800, but they just kept working their way through the pack. They are a veteran team and they knew what to expect. I couldn’t be more proud of them. That last 800 was phenomenal. Everyone gave it their all.”
Minster and Ft. Loramie jumped out strong, but the Big Orange turned it up over the final half of the race to jump in the thick of the championship chase.
WL-S trailed Ft. Loramie by 44 points and Minster by 16 after the first mile. At the two-mile mark, the Big Orange were 26 points behind Minster and 13 from Ft. Loramie.
The Big Orange remained in third at the 2 1/2-mile mark, sitting 21 points away from Minster and five from the Redskins.
“The race played out very well for us,” said Megan Adams. “We just kept working hard to move up as the race went on.”
Megan Adams was one of three Big Orange runners to earn all-Ohio honors with top-30 finishes.
Katelyn Stapleton finished 19th (19.13.6) and Grace Adams was 30th (19:30.5).
Vogel said this is the first time the team has had more than two runners get all-state awards in the same year.
“It feels awesome to be the state runner-up,” said Stapleton. “We have worked so hard all season. I am very satisfied with the way we ran. We did better than last year and we got on the podium. That was what we were shooting for.”
Also for the Big Orange, Madison Bahan was 52nd (20:08.6), Lydia Moell finished 68th (20:26.9), Mandilyn Weaver placed 124th (21:48.9) and Maggie Davis finished 128th (21:54.9).
The Big Orange girls are very familiar with competing with the cream of the crop in the state. Five of the seven runners that ran Saturday were instrumental in the track and field team’s state championship last spring.
“These girls expect to win,” said Vogel. “I didn’t think we would be state champs in track last spring, but these girls have very high expectations. They wanted to win today and that’s all they talked about. They gave it their all and I couldn’t ask for anything more out of them.”
Saturday’s race offered a lot of individual pride for the Big Orange runners as many of them overcame adversity to turn in stellar outings.
For Megan Adams, as of a few weeks ago, she wasn’t even sure if she would be able to run anymore this season. She suffered a broken foot early on this fall and was sidelined for most of the regular season.
“To be able to finish third is an amazing feeling,” she said. “I had a broken foot, but God blessed me with a quick recovery and gave me the ability to get back to my teammates.”
“Megan is pure guts,” said Vogel. “I remember her riding a bike in a boot while we practiced at Ohio Caverns. She just wanted to be there with her teammates. Her resilience has been amazing. She is one of those special kids that only come around every once in a while.”
Stapleton enjoyed a feeling of redemption after not being able to finish in the state meet as a freshman two years ago.
“I am so happy with how I finished,” she said. “I didn’t finish this race as a freshman, so it feels really good to be able to accomplish this.”
“Katelyn’s maturity and growth has been tremendous,” said Vogel. “She knew what she had to do and went out and did it. She passed 10 people in the last 800.”
Grace Adams, one of two seniors on the team along with Moell, also left a lasting legacy on the program with her all-Ohio performance.
“Grace has improved so much,” said Vogel. “She really took on the role of a leader and was a great example for the rest of the girls.”
Grace Adams and Moell became the 9th and 10th runners in program history to qualify for four consecutive state meets.
Rounding out the top 10 teams in the Division III standings Saturday were Liberty Center (161), Mt. Gilead (165), Centerburg (224), McDonald (252), Gilmour Academy (264), Columbus Grove (286) and Maplewood (289).
Springfield Catholic Central’s Addie Engel ran a blistering time of 17:46.9 to win the Division III race. Her time was a new course record. Her twin sister Bridget was fourth (18:44.5).
Waynesfield-Goshen’s Taylor Spencer also put on a standout showing with a sixth-place finish (18:52.2).