Back in 2011, when the Lady Raptors were on their way to their first state championship, Coach Mueller tried to convince them to run at Nike Cross Regionals, a postseason race in North Carolina that qualifies five individuals and two teams for Nike Cross Nationals. This year, it didn't him long to convince the girls to train for three more weeks so that they could gain experience racing in a national caliber meet.
After getting spiked and shoved more times than she cared for, junior Annika Sleenhof pulled away from the lead pack. She led at the mile before Kate Murphy (VA) pulled even, and the two went on to duel over the next mile and a half before Murphy eventually pulled away for the win. Still, Sleenhof's runner up finish was amazing, as it propelled her into NXN. Kathy Kroeger of Independence qualified for Footlocker Nationals from 2005-2008 but no female WCS ever had ever qualified for NXN.
Cross country is a team sport, and Annika's teammates ran very well. Interstate rankings are dubious since every course is different, but the Lady Raptors were ranked 20th in the region coming into the meet. With three runners battling serious illnesses, it was anybody's guess how the day would go, but everybody came through. Ella Kuban ran a PR (19:18) to finish 73rd, Alex rosen just missed her PR with a 19:31 (83rd), Jamie Blaylock overcame nausea and vomiting to run 19:32 (86th), and Elise Strevell scored for the first time ever with a PR of 19:41 (102nd). Maeve Hanley and Olivia Hetherington both ran 19:54, which was a new PR for Olivia. Despite having been teammates for three years, this was the first time that juniors Annika, Jamie, and Olivia ran in the same cross country race. As you can imagine, Coach Mueller hopes it's not the last!
Annika will fly to Oregon next week to race NXN on Saturday, Dec 3rd. Everyone else will begin a much deserved rest!