VERSAILLES – The Versailles girls cross country team is aiming for a top 10 finish at Saturday’s Ohio High School Athletic Association Division III state cross country meet.
“We’re sitting maybe 13th or 14th out of the 20 teams that will be there so we’re going to shoot for the top 10,” Versailles cross country coach Mark Pleiman said. “We’d like to be in that top half. We understand that we don’t have five girls running in the 19s maybe like a Minster does, but our goal is for everybody to have their best time of the year. On and off the course we’re going to have a lot of fun.”
This is the first time since 2014 that Versailles has sent a full cross country team to the state championships. Of the Lady Tigers’ seven runners – Hannah Bey, Maria Mangen, Kenia McEldowney, Kennedy McEldowney, Megan Rismiller, Dana Rose and Liz Watren – only Kenia McEldowney has previous experience running at the state cross country meet.
Now a senior, Kenia McEldowney tries to use her experience to help lead the Tigers.
“I try to be (a leader),” she said. “Give them some advice, tell them to calm down, it’s OK.”
Some other Versailles runners have attended the state meet before to watch their sisters. Kennedy McEldowney, the younger sister of Kenia, said she remembers the excitement of watching her sister run at state and is glad they get to run together this weekend.
“It’s very exciting being able to run with her since this is her last year and my first year,” the Versailles freshman said. “So I’ll cherish it.”
Watren watched her sister, Camille Watren, run at the state cross country meet back in 2013. Watren does have some personal experience competing on the big stage as a two-time state track and field qualifier, which she thinks will help prepare her for Saturday’s state cross country meet.
“I feel like track is a bigger atmosphere, like more intense kind of,” the Versailles junior said. “I watched my sister at state (cross country), and we pretty much sat in the stands the whole time. It’s such a big course and you barely see them, but like at track they see you the whole time.”
Having experience competing at state is invaluable, Pleiman said, so he’s glad the Tigers made it back to state this year while they still had some experience on their roster.
“It’s very important as a program to get your school there kind of consistently,” he said. “With Kenia being the only one there as a freshman, we’ve got a little bit of that leadership that can say, OK, this is what it’s going to feel like, this is how you’re going to feel during your run, and that’s very difficult to instill that back into the kids once we lose that as a team. So it was really important that we got back to it this year with the team, and now these girls are going to be able to be the leaders for next year’s team and go on and keep that tradition going.”
While most of the current Tigers don’t have experience competing at the state meet, they do have a lot of experience running against the state’s top competitors including Fort Loramie, Minster, St. Henry and Russia – teams they’ll face again this weekend.
“It should be fun to have a competition that’s really competitive with some great runners in it,” sophomore Hannah Bey said.
Even though the Tigers have run against some of the fastest girls in Ohio, they know this weekend will be much bigger than what they’ve experienced before.
“It just feels like there’s 10 times more energy than there was for (the Midwest Athletic Conference meet),” freshman Maria Mangen said. “Like MAC is starting to feel a little smaller, and I’m just more proud for my team that they made it this far.”
For the three seniors on the team – Kenia McEldowney, Rismiller and Rose – they’re excited that they get to finish their Versailles cross country careers at the biggest meet in the state.
“I never thought I’d be able to have the opportunity to go to state and to have all these wonderful girls just work as a team, be able to help not only me but the rest of the seniors and be able to get quite a few of the freshmen and other girls there as a team this year is really amazing,” Rose said.
The girls are hoping to finish the season strong and most are striving for new personal-best times.
“It’s going to be pretty exciting and awesome,” Rismiller said.
No matter how the race goes on Saturday, Pleiman is anticipating that the Tigers will have a great time this weekend.
“It’s a lot more fun bringing a whole team, having that team aspect to it,” he said. “Last year was special bringing my own kid (Noah Pleiman) plus Joe (Spitzer), but the girls, they’re all excited about it. It’s kind of neat to be able to bring that back to the school.”
The Versailles girls will run in the Division III state championship at 11 a.m. Saturday at National Trail Raceway in Hebron.
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.