After placing 7th at Conference, we knew that we had a big task ahead of us if we were going to advance to the Sectional as a team. What pleased me was the confidence and focus of our week of training. On race day, we looked and felt confident, too. We knew that our mission was to take advantage of the great course and racing conditions, as well as to strive to fix the gap.
We got out hard, and I was really pleased with our placement as we emerged from the first loop. Our mile splits (Kelsey 6:02; Maya 6:27; Julia 6:35; Cynthia 6:46; Taylor 6:53; Steff 6:56; and Janelle 6:59) were aggressive and fast! According to our fab timers, our 1-7 split was only 57 seconds--beautiful! In the next loop, you all worked the course to catch people, and I was happy to see that none of you panicked over the fast pace; instead, you leaned into the race and worked for your girls. You all ran your last mile like you meant it--no regrets. I was also happy to see you all switch gears with 800 to go, and I was pleased with your kicks in the final straight. The numbers were good: Kelsey ran a new LPR of 18:58, breaking 19 for the first time and making her the fastest freshman in ZBXC history; Maya ran a big race to earn a new LPR of 20:53, matching Bailey Lippeth's freshman PR--the previous fastest ZBXC freshie (I have to fact-check that, but I'm pretty sure I'm right). Taylor ran a new season PR of 21:50, despite this course being longer than Warren's from the previous week. Julia was only seconds away from her time the previous week. And Cynthia, Janelle, and Steff all ran solid times for the day. More importantly, as I walked over to the finish area, I could see your faces, which told the story of the day: you ran without regret.
Although the team outcome was not what we had hoped--we ended up 8th--we were much closer to our competition than the week before. We raced well against an increasingly strong Round Lake team, and we were closer to Warren than at Conference (in fact, they made significant moves on us in the last 800; had we held them off, the score would have been even closer). There are several bright spots from the day.
As I walked over to the finish, I overheard Julia tell Maya as she hugged her, "I'm so glad it was you...I'm glad it was you." I can only guess that this beautiful statement was in response to Maya's surge in the final moments of the race when she overtook Julia. That statement made the bittersweet news of Maya's advancement to Sectionals all the more impressive to me. Julia went from not even running as a freshman to growing into the captain of a very young team. In what ended up being her final race, she celebrated the kick of her teammate because she knew that point would be ours, and in that short sentence, she conveyed more than I ever could as a coach: the team matters more than the individual--the chain is stronger when the links work as one. And her words were not empty: she followed them up with actions as she supported our two Sectional Qualifier freshmen through practice all week, despite the nag of calf injury. And she was not alone. All of you--Julia, Janelle, Steff, Cynthia, Taylor, and Diana--you all showed these freshmen what it means to be a team. Last year's team, although I loved them dearly, had not yet transcended to that level of selflessness during Sectional week. They did help this year's seniors understand their role as ambassadors of our values, though; this year's team has exceeded my expectations in that arena for sure. And that is why I tweeted that this race is a signal of a new era in ZBXC greatness, brought to you by the leadership of our twin captains and encouraged by this unexpected and amazing team.
I am getting a bit misty-eyed as I type this because I honestly cannot contain my emotion about this season. You have heard stories about Kristen and Bailey and Kimmy. You have read about others who have run for the ZB name. You have learned about the Courage Award and the history of links and the many who have run before you. I have had the pleasure of coaching some amazing people and teams--a few faster, and many slower than this group. I honestly cannot remember a time when the chemistry felt so right. I honestly cannot remember a team so selfless. I am so incredibly proud of this group, and I am sincerely sad to see the team portion of the season come to an end. There were plenty of seasons when we finished and I felt that business was unfinished. You all have given me a sense of ease, though, because you simply get it.
I cannot wait for Polar. I cannot wait for track. I cannot wait to work with you to make even more incredible memories. Thank you for a beautiful season!
I cannot wrap up this post without saying how proud I am of Kelsey and Maya. You two have endured the pressures of running Varsity as freshies with grace and grit. We are honored to watch you race next week at the Sectional! Let's mark this as the start of a new era!