Lady Knights XC pulls school first, Galbraith to state

Lady Knights XC pulls school first, Galbraith to state

Image Credit: Danielle Wagers

West Holmes cross country coach Kevin Beachy got totally blindsided by his girls cross country team this season, and he loves it.

On Saturday, Oct. 30 at the Div. II regional meet at Pickerington Central High School, the Lady Knights did something no team has ever done before, qualifying for the state cross meet as a team.

Beachy said he knew he had some young talent on the team, but they hadn’t ever really talked about making it to state, but when everyone had crossed the finish line, there was West Holmes in fourth place. Beachy said it came as such a shock to the girls that it took some time to really sink in that they had just accomplished something no other team in the program’s history had ever done.

“I knew we would be competitive, but I didn’t expect that we would be a state qualifier,” Beachy said. “The one thing this team has done is they have bought into what we have been teaching them. They’ve bought into the training we have preached. We had a plan this week, and I told them this is how we need to run, and they executed exactly what we asked of them. As a bunch of freshmen and sophomores and a junior, we couldn’t ask for anything more.”

While times and team finishes might not be exactly what the girls expected throughout the season, Beachy said it isn’t about doing well early, but it all builds up to what happens in October that matters the most.

Beachy looked at finishes around the region and saw that there were two teams that were head-and-shoulders above the rest of the field. Then there were teams three through 12, all of which could battle for one of the top-six teams that advance to state.

He said he also looked at the forecast and quickly realized it was going to be a sloppy track.

“The number-one thing I told the girls was they needed to be mentally ready to take on a terrible track,” Beachy said. “We expected a muddy mess, and that was exactly what it was, and our kids were ready and dealt with it. We were so focused and ready to deal with that mud. We just controlled what we could control.”

Beachy said because of the mud, they put long spikes in the cleats and taped each runner’s shoes to their feet so they didn’t lose a cleat in the mud.

Based on district times, he had his Lady Knights ninth out of the top-12 teams. He told his girls if they ran well, they could take fifth. It turned out he underestimated his team.

Beachy told his girls to get out quickly because the track at Pickerington North bottlenecks and runners can fall back quickly should they get jammed up in the flow of runners in the course’s first half-mile.

They did, and Lexy Starner settled in around 20th, eventually taking 21st, and Noelle Smith was running in the late 20s and made a late push to take 25th. Zora Starner has been stellar all season, and Beachy said while she didn’t run her usual race, she battled through to take 40th. Brenna Myers rolled home in 75th, and Carolyn Miller grabbed the 90th spot to round out a solid team effort for the Lady Knights. Rounding out the effort were Emily Truax and Autumn Conner, who add to the team depth.

“This team has picked each other up all season,” Beachy said. “I am proud of Zora because she didn’t have her best day, but she hung in there, and the rest of the girls picked her up. She battled and even passed a couple people at the end for points.”

Then there was Miller. The girls knew every point would be important, and while Miller finished in the fifth and final scoring spot, her finish defined the Lady Knights’ effort.

As she neared the finish line, coach Scott Mellor yelled to Miller that she had to catch three runners ahead of her. Miller ran down two and was despondent because she hadn’t caught the third.

“She said she was afraid we wouldn’t get out because she didn’t catch the one,” Beachy said. “I told her we got fourth, and she said, ‘What? Coach Mellor lied to me?’”

It was the happiest Miller has ever been to have someone lie to her.

Something that sets this team apart from past teams is it doesn’t have one superstar. Instead, it has a group of girls who go to work and grind out finishes with a team goal in mind. Whether it is the Starner twins, an ever-improving Smith, or Myers or Miller working their way past people to pick up points in the middle of the pack, Beachy said the girls understand the value each brings to the table as they run as one.

While the Lady Knights were churning their way to state, one of the boys joined them. After qualifying for regionals as an individual, Knights junior Zeke Galbraith carved out his own spot among the growing list of state qualifiers on the boys side, placing 12th to move on.

Beachy said Galbraith is still nowhere near meeting his ceiling. He said Galbraith is constantly seeking to learn and get better, reading anything he can get his hands on that he thinks might improve his game.

“He is constantly searching the latest technology to gain an edge,” Beachy said of Galbraith. “He’s not cocky, but he’s confident. He has what it takes to be a great runner. He buys into what we teach him. He believes it will help him, and then he executes what we have taught him. He has gotten better and better, and he is to the point that his confidence level is almost scary.”

Like the girls, Beachy told Galbraith to get out with the front pack early. Like them, he listened and was lurking around 15th until making a big push to end up 12th, easily qualifying for state.

Beachy said they knew Galbraith was going to be a good runner based on his middle school experience. Then he matured, his confidence rose and he has put himself in a good place heading into state.