It’s sometimes said that teams have to overcome adversity if they want a chance at a championship.
So, if in mid-November, if the Mandeville High girls cross country team hoists a state title trophy over its collective shoulders, consider the adage true.
Mandeville, the top-ranked Class 5A girls cross country team in the state, looks a lot like a MASH Unit the past few weeks. Junior Claire Crosby, who has run a 3-mile time of 18 minutes, 17 seconds this season, is on crutches through at least mid-November because of a stress fracture. Fellow junior Olivia Murphy, who finished second at state last year, still is running about two minutes behind the pace she was at last season because of a knee injury.
Senior Kylie Touchard, 10th in the 5A meet last season, has had toe surgery; and sophomore Ally McCulley missed a meet last week because she was sick.
It’s been a tough couple weeks for the Skippers, but hopes are still high at Mandeville, thanks in large part to the resiliency of the top runners.
Even with all the setbacks in 2014, their No. 1 ranking in the Class 5A cross country poll is evidence the Skippers are one of a handful of teams with a legitimate shot at claiming a state championship when the 5A meet is held Nov. 18 in Natchitoches.
Mandeville’s girls finished fourth last season behind Parkway, Dominican and St. Joseph’s.
Crosby’s injury was the latest in Mandeville’s set of setbacks. She has an injury to the tibia (a weight-bearing bone) and her doctor has put her on the shelf until only a week before the state meeting; meaning she’ll miss the District 6-5A meet at Fontainebleau State Park on Nov. 5, as well as the Northshore Metro Meet on Nov. 11 in Hammond.
Still, she’s hoping to have an impact on the team at state.
“My hope is that if I can get in even a week of training before state. That I can run low enough at state to get some points for the team,” Crosby said. “If it gives the team a better chance to win, I’ll do it.”
Crosby said it’s hard to watch from the sideline, however, as her teammates continue to find the mettle to retain their top ranking in Louisiana.
“It’s hard, whenever you put in this amount of time for this to happen,” she said. “But the one thing that makes me feel better with my injury is that (my teammates) are there to fill in.”
Murphy has been in a similar situation throughout the 2014 campaign. She’s not used to running in the low 20-minute range (her best this year is 20:04, as opposed to last year’s state finish of 18:26.
“Whenever I can run, I’m excited to be out there,” Murphy said. “With both me and Claire hurt, everyone is working so hard for the team. Even if we’re not out there, they’ll be OK.”
McCulley has the second-fastest time on the team this year (18:49.) Though only a sophomore, she said she has no problem helping lead while her teammates fight to regain top form.
“Me, Kylie, and Chelsey (Jones) have kind of pushed one another this year,” McCulley said. “I think we can come together and push one another some more and hopefully pull it off (with wins at district, metro, and state.)”
Touchard, with a best time of 19:21, agreed.
“We’ve all had to step up and work extra hard because of all these injuries,” she said. “We can do it. Our mindset is that we believe in ourselves.”
Jones, a junior who has run a 19:09, is one of the few top Mandeville runners to stay completely healthy in 2014. She said she’s not preoccupied with predictions. Instead, she’s focused on her team’s goals.
“I know we’re predicted to win state,” Jones said. “That’s one of our goals. ... It worries us a little bit that we have some people out. But if we’ll keep pushing one another, it’ll turn out how we want it.”
Mandeville coach Gerald Singer said that could very well be the case. He said the team will run at Walker this weekend, then rest until the district, metro and state meets arrive.
Singer said he hopes a few days off will allow his team to find its legs — a strategy used by many coaches heading into the crux of a season.
“I feel really good about this team, and they feel really good too, I believe,” he said. “We’ve been flip-flopping with St. Joe’s in the rankings all season. They’ve had some injuries too. I think on any given day, and I told the team this (recently,) any team can win. We’re not the only two teams in Class 5A. There are a lot of good ones.
“But this team is getting along great. The girls have come a long way.”