Throughout the 2019 season, the McFarland High School girls cross-country team has succeeded with the philosophy of sticking together and helping each other out.
By doing that, everything seemed to fall into the place for the Spartans, which placed its top five runners in the top 15 and won the Thursday, Oct. 17, Rock Valley Conference meet at UW-Whitewater.
It was a close victory with McFarland accumulating 54 points, just one shy of second-place Evansville, which had three runners in the top 10 but three who finished in 16th, 17th and 18th just behind a trio of Spartan runners. For co-coaches Andrew Garvey and Scott Fischer, it was a monumental occasion, considering the talent on the other Rock Valley teams.
“I was very, very happy,” Garvey said. “They got into good position in the first 800-to-1,200 meters and they just kept working and rolling from there.”
Senior Sadie McCaulley’s fifth-place finish was McFarland’s best in a time of 21:20.5. Junior Emma Johnson trailed behind her in seventh in 21:44.5.
What might have turned the race in the Spartans favor was the performance of Lillian Grossman, Paige Ceelen and Felicia Zheng who took 13th, 14th and 15th, respectively, ahead of Evansville’s Teagan Olson, Meghan Tiedt and Zoe Winter, who ended up 16th, 17th and 18th, respectively. If one of those Blue Devil runners had enough fuel in the tank to get past one of the McFarland trio, Evansville would have been the conference champions.
But it didn’t turn out that way as 15th-place Zheng’s run of 22:06.0 was six seconds faster than 16th place Olson, who completed the course in 22:12.7.
Grossman, who took 13th in 21:59.8, said the biggest obstacle on the course was a gravel hill the runners had to execute twice.
“It’s not grass. It’s a bunch of little rocks and pebbles and sand. The footing there can be tricky,” Grossman said. “It was awesome to see 70 percent of the team ahead of me so that meant we had a really good chance of winning. I was further in the back of the pack but gradually moved forward.”
Garvey said the team was shown a video of the hill during race preparations.
“We told them the hill takes a lot out of you. The first time, they wouldn’t feel it going up, but the second time is make or break time,” Garvey said. “We just told the ladies, all those miles you put in during the summer, all these workouts leading up to it, this is where we can separate from other teams.”
McFarland’s sixth runner, Sara Yavas, ended in 30th place.
While the Spartans took the league title, no one could stop Brodhead/Juda’s Madelynn McIntyre, who won the event with a time of 19:52.4. Yet, the Cardinals ended up fifth with 103 team points. East Troy took third with 71, and Jefferson fourth with 81.
The girls compete in the WIAA Division 2 sectional race Saturday in Spring Green. Only the top two qualifying teams advance to the state meet in Wisconsin Rapids.
“This is a great momentum builder for the girls, but they can’t be satisfied yet. Getting back to the state meet is one of our team goals, but we need to take care of business at sectionals,” Garvey said. “We are in the right direction, but we have to do some good training, tune-up and make sure we are ready to go.”