The New London girls cross country program — by the admission of head coach Keith Landis — didn’t look as good as they were capable for most of the year.
The Wildcats were fighting injuries and sickness at various points in time.
But about three weeks ago, things began to improve — and now the girls program will join the New London boys at the Division III state cross country championships at National Trail Raceway on Saturday in Hebron.
The boys program nearly won a regional and were favorites to reach state as a team. However, the girls didn’t win the Firelands Conference or district meets, and grabbed the eighth and final team spot at last weekend’s regional in Tiffin.
“All year long, we really haven’t stood out,” Landis said. “No one picked us to make it out last week, and I’m not sure anyone thought we’d be seven points away from a district title.
“But these girls seem to be getting it figured out at the right time,” he added. “We were fighting a lot of minor things all season, but we’ve been lucky enough to do that these last few weeks. We seem to have come out at the right place at the right time, and it’s a special thing to be able to watch them experience it.”
New London has been anchored by sophomore Kaylin Williams and junior Gabrielle Osterland all season. The two have been so close, just last weekend at the regional, the pair were just a half-second apart at the finish line in 20:10 to place 25th and 26th.
“Gabbi and Kaylin have been great for each other and pushed each other all year long,” Landis said. “Kaylin is one or two steps ahead most times, which has made for a formidable 1-2 punch.
Freshman Abigail Good is just learning how to run a 5K this year and has been in the low 21s this season. Junior Dana Gustely has endured an injury-riddled summer and fall, but appears to be back into shape.
“Dana led the 4x400 state track relay team and has gotten healthy and back into shape — I think we’ve got it figured out with her,” Landis said. “Savannah (Shaver) had a great race at Tiffin the first time around at the Carnival, but we’re getting her back to full strength as well.”
Freshman Esther Schmidt and sophomore Abbey Keller round out the lineup.
“We fought the flu with two or three girls in the middle of the season, but it appears the injury bug has left us,” Landis said. “We ran well at the FC race and closed the gap a bit on a very good Western Reserve team, and started to improve then.”
Looking at it realistically, Landis believes the girls are capable of a top 15 finish in Saturday’s 11 a.m. race.
“Looking at the times, most computer models have us in the bottom three,” he said. “But we can get be a top 10 or 15 team I think.
“We have seven underclassmen, so it will be a good learning experience for us,” Landis added. “Outside of Dana, none of them have state experience among the top five girls. They will get valuable experience, which will be great for them.”