There is no sport at the high school level that requires as much time and hard work as cross-country.
A season that officially begins in August and, if everything goes according to plan, doesn't end until November, separates those who've merely worked and those who've given their blood, sweat and tears to the sport.
For the Northview girls cross-country team and for boy's team member Justin Scherb, the dedication and toil will be rewarded with a berth in the Indiana High School Cross-Country State Finals on Saturday at the Indiana University Course in Bloomington.
For the senior laden Lady Knights, the trip is a culmination of, for many of the team members, four years of dedication.
"When we were at the semistate, waiting to hear our name, and finally did. We all just started crying," said senior Mary Pugh. "This is what we've been waiting for all year."
The Lady Knights placed second as a team, behind only Bloomington South, but that, in a nutshell, is what this type of event brings out in even the most hardened athletes. Many will never get the opportunity to compete in a State Final event, one which pits the top runners in the state against not only the clock, but each other.
"It a privilege to run against the best in the state," commented junior Emily Pugh. "Just making it there is an honor, even if you finish last you know your one of the best in the state."
In Saturday's girls race, 245 runners, which include 20 teams, will toe the starting line beginning at 1 p.m.
Of the seven members of the Northview girls team that will be competing, just one, senior Mary Pugh, has experience running in the event, something that she has shared with her teammates.
"I've just told them that the race goes fast. It's a lot faster than any other race we've been in," said Pugh. "Most of all I told them to just have fun. This is the last step you can take."
That final step is a familiar one for senior Justin Scherb, but one he's been anxious to take once again.
Scherb missed his junior season of cross-country action with a leg injury after competing in the state finals as a freshman and sophomore.
As an underclassman, Scherb raised a lot of eyebrows at the State Meet with a 37th place overall finish as a freshman and by finishing 43rd as a sophomore. He was the top freshman finisher in the meet in his first year and the second sophomore the next year which left high expectations for last year, none higher than his own. But though his plans for a return trip last year was derailed by his injury. He's rebounded with a determination that hasn't gone unnoticed by his coach.
"I'm really proud of how he's come back from his injury," said Coach Jeff Gambill of Scherb. "It's really hard to come back from an injury as a runner. It's tough to stay motivated, but I think he's always had it in the back of his mind that he would be back."
That feeling was repeated by Scherb before practice on a chilly Wednesday afternoon. "I just really wanted to finish my career on a high note this weekend. It just feels good to be back where I am right now. I'm just really proud of how the team did this season. We really pushed each other."
That team concept is one that echoed through both squads this season and has been rewarded for the Northview girls.
"For me, I just feel really blessed and consider myself lucky to come into a position to coach such a talented group of girls," noted girl's team coach Kimberly Calkins. "Going to the State Meet is a bonus, but they've worked so hard to get here. They deserve it."
In a meet as competitive, and certainly intimidating as the State Finals, qualifying as a team and being with those your comfortable with is a tremendous bonus. One that Mary Pugh can identify with wholeheartedly.
"Last year when I went by myself, I didn't want to go without the team. It's so encouraging to have (the team) there."
For a group that ran together on their own over the summer, it's only fitting that they finish their year, and for some, their high school career, as a team. "It's really special (to make the Finals as a team)," said senior Nikki Royer. "We're all really close, we hang out on weekends together. We're like family."
And what better way to take a trip to the State Finals than with your friends and family?