HEBRON – A strong second half of Saturday’s state championship race earned the Versailles girls cross country team an 11th place finish.
Versailles was in the back of the pack early in Saturday’s Ohio High School Athletic Association state meet at National Trail Raceway in Hebron, but the Tigers moved up throughout the race to finish 11th out of 20 teams in the Division III girls race.
“That’s the kind of race that kind of gives a coach a little bit of a heart attack, I guess,” Versailles cross country coach Mark Pleiman said. “To finish it up in 11th place, just tremendous second half of the race by all the girls. Really proud of them. Came in here probably ranked about 14th so to get three spots ahead of that, super proud of their hard work and the way they ran the race.”
Running against the best runners in the state was eye-opening for some of the Tigers as they realized how fast the girls were going.
“The first mile was kind of fast, and I felt really good,” junior Liz Watren said. “And then we were like at a mile and a half and like you turn around, and I look and the Gator is right there, and I’m like, wow, I’m in like last.”
Versailles was in last place as a team at the first mile mark, but the Tigers then began to move up the standings. By the second mile they were in 15th place.
“At first it felt like a normal meet,” freshman Maria Mangen said. “It took me a whole mile to realize that these are the fastest girls in the state, and I was like I’m so honored to be here. I just feel so small compared to these really fast runners. But then I’m like, wait, I’m one of those really fast runners.”
By the end of the race the Tigers had moved up four more spots into the middle of the pack.
“Running today I knew that it would be a lot different, I’d be closer to the back of the race,” senior Dana Rose said. “I’ve been getting a lot better at understanding my body this year so I could kind of tell with my pace that I was doing pretty good even though a lot of people were passing me. I ended up a little bit slower the first two miles, and a girl came up beside me and she started talking to me. I’m like, ‘Hey, you see that girl up there. She’s one of my teammates. You wanna help me get to her?’ And she’s like, ‘Yeah, let’s go.’ So we started sprinting off a little bit before we got to the third mile, and she really helped me to just set a new pace to end the rest of the race with.”
Senior Kenia McEldowney led Versailles as she finished 63rd overall with a time of 20:25.2, less than one second off her personal-best time. After running at the 2014 state meet as a freshman, she said she ran a better race this time around.
“I felt like I was more prepared,” she said. “I knew what was going to happen and how it was kind of ran. I just tried to kind of think of what I did my freshman year and what I regretted then I tried to change it to make it better.”
Senior Megan Rismiller finished second for Versailles with a time of 20:51.3, which put her in 93rd place overall.
Mangen finished 103rd overall in 21:00.8, and Rose finished 125th in 21:24.9, less than 0.7 seconds behind her personal-best time.
“Great way to end the season,” Rose said. “It’s my very last race, and I couldn’t have thought of a better way to end my high school career in cross country.”
Freshman Kennedy McEldowney finished 133rd overall in 21:32.5.
“It’s exciting,” she said. “Now that it’s over I’m like, aw, I should have done better.”
Watren and sophomore Hannah Bey ran to the finish line together with Watren finishing 149th overall in 21:57.0 and Bey finishing 150th in 21:57.5.
“I enjoyed it,” Bey said. “There were a lot of people here, but the race, being secluded, it’s easier to focus for me. In the woods in the third mile you can just pay attention to what you’re doing and stay on the girls in front of you.”
For Kenia McEldowney, Rismiller and Rose, Saturday marked the end of their high school cross country careers.
“I have so much to say, but I don’t know how to say it,” Rismiller said. “I’m just so happy I could be part of this sport.”
While the Tigers are losing three strong runners, they’re hopeful that they’ll be able to make it back to state again next year.
“I hope that we can get here again,” Watren said. “We are losing Megan and Kenia and Dana, and that will be kind of hard to replace all three of them. But we can get it probably still. I hope we can.”
For complete results from the state meet, visit http://ohsaa.org.
Kyle Shaner may be reached at 937-569-4316. Follow me on Twitter @KShanerAdvocate or get updates on Facebook by searching Darke County Sports or Advocate 360. For more features online go to dailyadvocate.com.