Lady Knights’ return to state comes with a blast of wind

Lady Knights’ return to state comes with a blast of wind

Image Credit: Danielle Wagers

There is enough pressure for the athletes competing in the state cross country meet that took place at Fortress Obetz at Memorial Park on Nov. 5 that they didn’t need any additional mountains to climb.

However, the teams competing in the Div. II girls race got one when an unexpected windstorm blew through the area right when the race was starting, adding one unique, challenging element into the mix.

For the West Holmes Lady Knights, who were enjoying their second straight trip to state after becoming the first girls team to qualify for state in school history the year prior, it added to the race in a none-too-pleasing way.

Battling loads of talent and the ridiculous weather saw WHHS run to an 18th-place finish in the Div. II team standings with 397 points.

While it wasn’t what they had hoped for, it was another feather in the cap of a program that has earned a strong name in cross country circles.

“It was a hot and humid day to begin with, and then the wind kicked in and it was awful,” head coach Kevin Beachy said. “When we went out for our shake-out run in the morning, I said if we had this weather it’d be great.”

That wasn’t the case.

Instead, the runners had to face a fierce wind and sultry heat, forcing many runners to struggle, some to quit and others to straggle home down the stretch, barely able to walk. Beachy said to his girls’ credit, they were strong the whole way.

“I thought we did a great job mentally,” Beachy said. “We were on top of the nutrition part of it, and the girls stayed strong throughout.”

One factor was several strong Div. I teams dropped to Div. II this year, filling the field with incredible talent. Still, Beachy said his athletes performed admirably.

“We were exhausted by the end, but we were prepared for anything, and it showed with how they performed,” Beachy said.

Noelle Smith was the front-running Lady Knight, a place she has been most of the season. Beachy said she led at one point in the first mile, eventually falling back and placing 94th in 20:47. Brenna Myers was right behind her, finishing 100th in 20:58, with Zora Starner trailing closely and placing 107th in 21:06.

Carolyn Miller placed 136th in 21:42, and Alexis Wagers rounded out the top-five scoring positions by placing 147th in 22:07.

“Noelle ran a pretty good race up front,” Beachy said. “She got out a little quick. She finished higher than last year, so that was good. Brenna Myers, one of our seniors, ran probably her best race of her life. She finished significantly better than last year, so that was good to see, and she was seconds off her PR in these conditions. That’s incredible. Carolyn really improved immensely this season and ran great, and I was excited for Olivia, who got to run her final race as a senior here at state.

“Zora and Carolyn both ran good races. Alexis Wagers as a freshman didn’t know really what to expect, so it was a good experience for her.”

Lexy Starner, who placed 25th at regionals and was one of WH’s top runners this season, fought through an injury to finish 173rd in 24:52.7. Olivia Sampsel placed 176th in 25:13.8 to round out West Holmes’ racers.

“Lexy Starner was battling a shin splint, and she pushed through and finished, but it wasn’t in her normal spot,” Beachy said. “She’s a tough girl and battled through it, but it would have been a big help if she were healthy. I’m still proud of her for battling through.”

Beachy said most of the girls would admit they didn’t run as well as they were hoping. “It doesn’t take away from the fact that we had a great season and probably the best season in school history. In pretty much all of the data and all of the stats, it was our best season ever,” he said.

With four of their seven runners returning next season, the Lady Knights are primed for big things again in 2023.

“I think the best is yet to come for all four of them,” Beachy said. “I feel very blessed with this group. You can be a great coach, but if you don’t get the kids to buy in to what you want to accomplish as a team, you’ve got nothing. These girls bought in, and we are looking forward to keeping this momentum we’ve created going next season.”

Additional reporting for this story came from Chris Snow.