Times Sports Editor
The Brown County Semistate will be a festive site for Northview cross country on Saturday afternoon. The girls' team makes a return trip following an eighth-place finish in the 2007 meet. The team will be joined by junior Conor Strain from the boys' team this year.
Northview placed fifth in the Brown County Regional and girls' coach Ryand Tucker for one is proud of what his squad has accomplished already.
"I don't know if there are words that describe how it feels to get back to semistate," said Tucker. "Excited is a vast understatement. This is the first time in school history that girls' cross country has made back-to-back semi-state appearances and only the fourth time ever (2000, 2003, 2007, 2008).
What the team has accomplished during the season itself is simply an extension of a lot of hard work during the offseason and a great deal of dedication according to Tucker.
Northview is led by a pair of seniors that will run on Saturday with Casandra Barnett and Allie True. Kylee Thacker, who led the team with an 11th-place in the semistate last season and qualified for the state finals, will not be available the remainder of the season due to injury.
Barnett was the team's top finisher last week with a 14th-place, followed by a 32nd by True. From there, the team's depth was the story as freshman Alyssa Conrad, juniors Shelby Sands and Corey Laue and sophomore Nicole Nelson all finished within a minute of each other.
Strain is no different in the approach he has taken during the summer leading up to this year. He's made great leaps in his 2008 results do to the work he's put into the sport according to coach Chad Smith.
"He has never stopped running and training since the end of last season," said Smith. "I can't say enough about how hard he has worked. Most hard work in the sport of cross country is done in the off season. He spends most of the winter preparing for this season."
The results have been easy to see during this postseason.
Strain placed 43rd overall in last year's Brown County Regional with a time of 17:45.
This year, on the same course, he placed eighth in 16:26 in order to qualify for the semistate. That improvement in time has led Smith to believe that Strain has all the tools to earn a top-15 spot on Saturday to qualify for the IHSAA State Finals the following weekend.
"I feel that he is capable of a top-15 performance," said Smith. "I would have to say that the Brown County Regional is the second toughest regional in the state. We have had a pretty good week of training and I think that will carry over to the semistate on Saturday."
Familiarity, as is often said, breeds contempt. However, in the case of the Brown County cross country course, which the Knights have run on several times this season, familiarity could be an important factor in Northview's success.
"We have raced on the Brown County course more than we have raced on our home course," said Tucker. "Since running is mostly a mental sport, surprise can be our worst enemy. Familiarity with a course helps reduce the chances of surprise. We know what to expect from the hills, how to run the corners and which areas of the course have the best footing."
Weather could have a significant effect on this year's race with rain predicted for much of Friday and Saturday. So footing will be a factor as well as staying loose while running in the inclement weather.
Tucker has been preparing his team for this level of the postseason and the girls' training regimen has changed accordingly.
"I have been reducing the number of miles the girls have been running and the amount of high intensity runs over the past two weeks," said Tucker. "The girls have been running with sore legs all season long; this reduction is to bring their legs back so they are capable of running their absolute best."
Senior leadership is an important aspect in the postseason and though Thacker won't be competing, she's joined her classmates in rooting for the team.
"Kylee will not be running at semistate. The stress fractures she suffered during track season have not healed completely," said Tucker. "She has the heart and determination to run through extremely high amounts of pain but she aggravated the fractures during WIC. It was a major disappointment when we found out she would not be able to finish the season but we did not change our goal of making it to the state meet.
The seniors (Casandra, Allie, and Kylee) all mean the world to me," continued Tucker. They may complain at times but I know they will always do what I ask of them and do it the best they can. They will be hard to replace but the underclassmen (Corey, Shelby, Nicole, and Alyssa) are from the same mold so I know they step in and fill the voids."
As for Strain, Smith believes he is on track to have a successful meet on Saturday.
I think (Conor) just needs to keep up his training and stay relaxed during the first several kilometers of the race," said Smith. "He needs to put himself in the mix and hold on. Northview has always had a long tradition of outstanding runners and I hope Conor can be added as one."
Saturday's races at Eagle Park are scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m.