Baylor Girls Basking In Glory Of Latest State Cross Country Title

Lady Red Raiders Nipped Brentwood Academy By Three Points Saturday

Wednesday, November 7, 2012 - by John Hunt

Heather Ott has been coaching the Baylor girls' cross country team for the past 23 years and during that time, they've won seven state championships.

Ott will be the first to tell you that "winning a state championship never gets old" and that they're all different as each team has its own personality.

The Lady Red Raiders have had superstars in the past, but this year's team didn't have one dominant runner.  However, they had a large group who were better than average and they all busted their tails for the good of the team.

After all, cross country is really the ultimate team sport where the number seven runner can have as much influence on a final result as the number one.

Baylor's margin of victory was a scant three points over Brentwood Academy.  For those of you not really familiar with scoring in this sport, that's really close.  Overall times are a great tool to use when bragging, but it's really the overall place that matters most.

The Lady Eagles had a faster cumulative time for their first five runners by 18 seconds and they even had the overall winner, but Baylor's first five finished ahead of Brentwood Academy's fourth runner.

Baylor's top five finished with a 6, 9, 13, 15 and 17th places while the Lady Eagles had a 1, 7, 10, 21 and 24.  That's a 60 for Baylor and a 63 for the Lady Eagles.

Freshman Grace Carlson was Baylor's first finisher as she finished sixth in 20:21.  Her push at the end was critical as she passed BA's Claire Cheeseman at the end.

Senior Ruthie Townsend was Baylor's fifth finisher as she claimed 17th in 21:28.  She was perhaps the unsung hero on Saturday for the Lady Raiders as she simply refused to toss in the white towel, even though she had been sick all week and was having one of her most miserable races of the season.

The Baylor girls create T-shirts along the way, always with a motto or saying that's unique to each team.  This year's shirt, which came out right near the end, had the words "The Complete Effort" printed on the back.  What a fitting slogan for an incredibly talented group of young ladies.

"It was a total mix of emotions as we were ready to run Saturday morning," said sophomore Syndey Gautier, who really turned on the afterburners in the final mile and passed at least 10 girls who had been ahead of her.

"It was one of my better finish positions and I earned All-State.  I gave up soccer so I could focus more on cross country, but that last mile was a blur.  We all started crying when they announced that we had won," she added.

Caitlin Duggan is one of three seniors on this year's team.  She finished 13th in 20:54.

"I knew it was my last race, but it turned out to be one of the best I ever had," she said with a smile after a team meeting Tuesday afternoon.

"We were hoping to do it as we had worked so hard.  I was overwhelmed and happy when we heard the results.  We knew it was going to be really close and it was," Duggan added.

Adrienne Webb is a junior who finished sixth for the Lady Raiders with a 38th-place time of 23:05.

"I certainly didn't have my best race on Saturday, but it still nice to be part of a team that won.  Even though it didn't show on Saturday, I'm glad to feel like I contributed to our success," she explained.

Ruthie Townsend is the second of those three seniors who's been a part of this team since the eighth grade.  During that time, she's earned All-State honors three times and has been part of four state championships.

She's the one who came up with the slogan for the T-shirts and it was her who epitomized what that really meant in her biggest race of the year.

"It was not a very good race for me at all as I had been sick all week.  I was dying out there as my legs didn't want to move.  Luckily for me, we had other girls who ran fast that day.

"I was really upset when I finished because I thought I had cost our team a chance to win, but once I found out that we won, I was really happy," she smiled.

Carlson is just a freshman, but she certainly doesn't run like one and she surely doesn't act like one.  She has the poise of a veteran and she's not afraid to talk when being interviewed.  She's soft spoken, but oh can she run.

"I was proud of myself," she began when recalling Saturday's race.

"Overall, it was good experience, but my mom was yelling at me at the end, telling me that I had to pass that next girl (Claire Cheeseman).  I could see that she was slowing down and that's when I passed her.

"It was an amazing race.  We were all screaming and crying when they announced the results, but I felt good Saturday.  It wasn't my fastest race, but time isn't everything in this sport.  My teammates really stepped up and our top five were really close," she added.

Haley Chandler is the third senior on Baylor's team.  He has the distinct honor of earning All-State honors for all five years while being on the winning team four times.  Very few high school athletes can make that statement.

"I knew that Saturday had to be a special day for me.  I got a little bogged down in the second mile, but I'm satisfied with the results," she said after finishing ninth overall in 20:33.

"I didn't want to look back and have any regrets as I wanted to leave on a good note.  In this sport, you're only as good as your last race," Chandler concluded.

Rachel Schatzman is another freshman on this team.  She was Baylor's seventh runner as she finished a disappointing 41st with a time of  23:18.

"I didn't have the race I wanted, but it was a great experience," she reflected on her second time on this particular course.

"My legs felt really tight as I felt like I was running through molasses.  I'm really happy and lucky to be a part of such a great team.  Running cross country at Baylor has always been a great experience.  We all came together at just the right time," she nodded.

Ott isn't your typical cross country coach.  She's an English teacher who has engaged her team in the mental aspect of running almost as much as the physical.  Each runner keeps a journal throughout the season and they verbalize their thoughts along the way.  It's a great way for her to get better acquainted with her girls and a better way for them to get to know themselves.

"We take a lot of pride in having a program that provides a particular kind of experience.  Our season isn't about one race or one person.  It's the whole of it all," Ott said Tuesday afternoon.

"It starts in August and ends in November.  It's everything in between.  Our goal is to create a team environment as we want these young ladies to feel empowered through their running.  That's a life skill that carries over into other areas of their lives.

"We want to put together as competitive a group as possible, but that's really hard to do if they don't care about each other.  We put a distinct focus on the mental aspect of running.  This sport is a combination of physical and mental, but being mentally and physically focused just doesn't happen.

"When I look back at this team, I think about the role of our seniors.  We had three seniors running at the highest level for five years.  Each championship team has its own personality, but it was nice to see them work for it all year.

"These three were women on a mission as their eyes were on that prize.  To be able to end their Baylor career like this is a significant achievement as they've left their mark on the program.

"They gave up a lot as there are many sacrifices involved. They had to recommit and refocus all season and they did an outstanding job of that," Ott added.

The Baylor girls just finished another banner season in cross country.  They didn't have the fastest girl in the race, but they had the best team.  But for a team who took their slogan of "The Complete Effort" to heart, they sacrificed for each other, they supported each other and they laughed and cried with each other as they finished another season on a high note.

And that's something they can take with them the rest of their lives.

(Email John Hunt at nomarathonmoose@comcast.net)


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