As the song goes, “They say that breaking up is hard to do.”
But is moving up hard to do?
That’s the question the Country Day girls cross country team will answer during the 2015 season. The defending Class 1A state champions, the Cajuns will compete in Class 2A this year — a move that could mean tougher competition standing in the way of a title repeat.
But the Country Day girls are confident they can compete, and succeed, in their new division. They do, after all, have their top six runners returning from last season’s team.
“Being a part of this group is great,” said freshman Esme Benjamin, who finished fourth in state last year as an eighth-grader with a 3-mile time of 20 minutes 23 seconds. “We’re older and we’re stronger now. We’ll perform better.”
Coach Brendan Minihan Jr. said last year’s squad was similar to the 2011 team, which also won a state championship. With so many of those 2014 runners returning, 2015 could bear resemblance, as well.
“We thought we had a chance to win last year,” he said. “That was our expectation. When we won in 2011, the seniors we had last year were part of that team. In 2013, we were runners-up. We came off that second-place finish hungry. I think this team realizes what it takes to be a state champion.”
To get his team prepared for the move up to Class 2A, Minihan challenged each runner to complete 250 miles of running over the summer. They charted their progress on an Excel spreadsheet, and each person who reached the goal received a “250-Mile Club” T-shirt. A handful of runners did reach the goal, despite competing in other summer sports. The rest of the team was very close to the mark.
“It was a great motivator,” Minihan said. “We saw people going after it. It let everyone on the team know, ‘Hey, we’re serious about this.’”
That work ethic continues now that school is in session. Though the Cajuns won’t run their first race until Sept. 19 at the Christian Brothers Meet near Covington, they are gathering focus now.
“We did the (later start) last year, and we got in better shape,” said junior Maddie Michaud, who was 11th at state in 2014. “Our first meet wasn’t iffy. We got right into the flow, and starting strong was positive for us.”
“We’re a close team,” added senior Davis Goldenberg, who won district last year and placed sixth at state. “We’re keeping the same spirit we had last year. We depend on each other and pull one another along.”
Katy Fagan, a junior who was fifth at state last year, said that bond works in her team’s favor.
“Our goal is never individuals winning,” she said. “If that happens, great. But we all want to do well. Our team ran together pretty close last year at state, and we came out on top.”
Minihan said it will take that positive approach (and plenty of hard work) to win again in 2015. He’ll rely on Benjamin, Goldenberg, Michaud, and Fagan, as well as Kathleen Kelleher and Sydney Lee to anchor the team.
“We have our work cut out for us,” he said. “It’s a tougher division. There are some pretty storied programs in 2A: Episcopal (Baton Rouge,) Menard. St. Thomas Aquinas has done well, Runnels has done well, and so has Delcambre. Then just in town, we have to go against Newman and McGehee. It’s going to be fun.”
“I really hope we can show 2A what we’re made of,” she said. “I think we’re up to it.”