SYRACUSE – It’s a simple question first-year Wawasee head coach Doug Slabaugh has overviewed for his girls cross country program this year. How far do you want to go?
“We are really young, but we have a ton of racing experience,” Slabaugh said no more than a week into official fall practice. “A lot of the younger kids have run a lot of road races, and my returners have experience in sectionals and regionals. But we are only going to be as good as we want to be. Sometimes that’s just all you can expect early on. It is what it is.”
Without a senior on the roster yet a core of experienced returning runners, the Lady Warriors will not be pushovers on the course. In fact, Wawasee returns a pair of All-Northern Lakes Conference runners in juniors Bre Robinson and Courtney Linnemeier and have a couple returners ready to make the jump.
Robinson made the furthest run for Wawasee on the 5,000-meter grids last fall, reaching the Fort Wayne Semi-State after taking eighth and thirteenth places, respectively, in the sectional and regional tournaments at Ox Bow Park last October. Linnemeier helped Wawasee to a fourth place team finish at the sectional, and the team narrowly missed out at the regional, placing sixth. Linnemeier missed out on a semi-state berth by just over half a minute.
“Bre and Courtney both lead by example, which is a huge help for us,” Slabaugh said. “They will challenge the girls at practice and I’m sure at meets. Both of them have been running at a high level, and they hold themselves to a high standard. I think what these two are doing for the program could set us up for great things to come for many, many years.”
Where Wawasee will either advance forward or fall back into the pack will come from the directives of its three through seven runners. In a Northern Lakes Conference loaded with frontline talent and a sectional at Ox Bow loaded with smart, fast teams, contestants other than the pair of juniors will need to assert themselves if Wawasee wishes to extend its team season past Oct. 15’s sectional.
Slabaugh is looking to junior Megan Rhodes and sophomore Morgan Eryman to step into roles of varsity leadership on the course. Both runners were active on the postseason roster last fall, but will need to step up their pace to give Wawasee pack potency. Wawasee has one other junior on the roster, newcomer Catherine Yankosky, who is giving cross country a go after holding down two years of varsity sprints for the track team.
From there, Slabaugh is resigned to putting the team’s hands in the fresh feet of several freshmen. But of the crop, four have stood out in early practices, including Delanie Bame, Bailey Schroeder, Molly Swartz and Bridgette Yoder. All have run competitively with various middle school and club teams, and could climb into the starting varsity lineup very quickly.
“Bridgette and Molly both have looked really good in practice and both have had some success before high school, so that helps us,” Slabaugh said. “Delanie has also been running well and should help us out. The only problem right now is they haven’t run anything in high school against kids that are much older than they are. This is all a learning curve, though.”
Wawasee opens its cross country season next Tuesday when it travels to Stauffer Park in Nappanee to meet NorthWood, Fairfield and Bremen. First gun is set for 5 p.m.