St. Croix Central girls get first taste of running at state cross country meet
The first experience to compete at the state level for the St. Croix Central girls cross country team was a highly positive experience.
The Panthers were hoping to finish better in the team rankings than 14th, but they performed capably in their first experience at the state championships on Saturday. The WIAA holds the state cross country championships at The Ridges Golf Course in Wisconsin Rapids each year.
The Panthers did finish ahead of Northwestern, the team that finished in front of them at the Rice Lake Division 2 sectional meet the previous week.
Central coach Bill Emery concerned himself with how the girls approached the race, making sure they didn’t get overwhelmed by the pressure of competing at state for the first time.
“They’re a fairly calm group, they internalize a lot,” Emery said. “We spent a lot of time talking, making sure they were calm. I think they did extremely well for their first state meet and the stress that goes with it.”
Emery said he tried to keep the team’s routine for the state meet as close to the normal routine. He said he could tell the girls were nervous when they asked him to walk the course with them, something they’d never asked before this season.
Once the race started, the Panthers got caught behind the pack and had to work their way up in the pack. That is a difficult challenge with more than 150 runners jammed into a course that can be tightly packed.
The Panthers were led by junior Olivia Moll who finished 31st in 20:18. Her younger sister, Claire, was Central’s second finisher, placing 94th in 21:33. In next for the Panthers was a pair of seniors. Margaryta Chuloy placed 110th and Courtney Carlson was 122nd. Mariah Withuski was the Panthers’ fifth scoring runner in 130th. Kourtney Labeause and Marie Hamlin were the final two Panther runners.
The intensity at which the Panthers ran was shown by Withuski, who collapsed at the finish line. Emery said that’s emblematic of the effort the team always gives.
“I never have to ask. I know they give their best every time,” he said.
Carlson and Chuloy are the only losses the Panthers will face to graduation. The five returning varsity runners, plus Liberty Grant, give the team hope for a return trip to state.
“Our whole team will just get better,” Emery predicted.