Several girls huddled around an electric heater where the McFarland High School girls cross-country team set up camp during the Nov. 2 WIAA Division 2 state meet at Wisconsin Rapids. It was the best place to be considering the conditions outside.
The temperatures were in the 30s, the gusty winds made it feel colder and some periodic snowfall also added to the weather unusual for a Nov. 1.
But it was a special moment for some of the girls on the team, who achieved every expectation including first place in the Rock Valley Conference and first place in the sectional tournament at Spring Green to secure a trip to state, its fourth trip in five years.
The team finished 14th out of 16 with 269 points. But co-head coach Andrew Garvey was all smiles after his girls battled the elements and came through with a respectable showing.
“We knew we had a lot of people coming back, and some people returning from injuries,” Garvey said. “We knew all along that we had the pieces to make it. We just had to come together, and these girls did a great job throughout the entire season.”
For senior Sadie McCaulley, the state tournament closed a great high school running career in which she occasionally had to battle injuries. McCaulley had the team’s best finish in 22nd place with a time of 20:16.4, three seconds off her career best time set as a freshman.
“That’s nothing to complain about,” Garvey said. “She’s a great senior leader, and I look forward to working with her in the upcoming track season.”
McCaulley said she was eager for the cross-country practices to begin in August and was encouraged to get through the season without chronic injuries.
“We were going for it all season,” McCaulley said. “Winning conference, winning sectionals, and after we passed both of those of milestones, we just came here to see what we can do and to believe in ourselves and each other.”
Senior Ella Ceelen sprinted to a 50th-place finish with a time of 21:04.5. Junior Emma Johnson was close behind Ceelen in 55th with a time of 21:09.7.
Sophomore Felicia Zheng ended up 69th in 21:43.9, just ahead of teammate, junior Lili Grossman, who completed the distance in 21:49.4. Grossman said she ran with Zheng much of the time while looking out for her teammates.
“It really is a team sport, because you are either running with a teammate or thinking about a teammate,” said Grossman, who said the hardest part of the course was the hills that put some strain on her calves.
One of the more surprising performances came from sophomore Lilly Innes who took 86th in 22:14.1. Innes was called to duty after the team’s No. 2 runner, freshman Paige Ceelen, was sidelined by illness.
Garvey said Innes’ finish was 30 seconds faster than her previous best.
Senior Sara Yavas finished 98th in her final cross-country meet with a time of 22:53.2.
The girls team will lose three seniors to graduation – McCaulley, Ella Ceelen and Yavas – and Garvey said they all served as the heart and soul of the Spartans, and provided excellent leadership and guidance.
One returnee will be Grossman, who enjoyed running with her teammates at state.
“I love this team so much, and to be able to run with them for one more week was an absolutely amazing experience,” she said. “We all worked very hard together. We need to keep thinking about the seniors we are losing and keeping their energy and the positive effects they have had on our running careers and our lives.”