Neenah’s Allison Parker, Claire Knaus and Austin Anderson are all running NCAA Division I cross country this fall.
Parker is at Marquette University, Knaus is at Loyola University and Anderson is at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
The three played crucial roles in Neenah winning four consecutive Fox Valley Association cross country titles.
Does their graduation open the door for Appleton West, Appleton North, Oshkosh West or Kimberly to end Neenah’s streak? Of those four, only Appleton West graduated a senior (Mariah Frank) from its top seven runners of a year ago.
So does that open the door for someone else to win the conference title on Oct. 17 at Countryside Golf Course in Kaukauna?
“You always want to tell your kids that,” Appleton North cross country coach Annette Jadin said. “I think kids just believe that anything can happen on any given day. I have so much respect for Neenah. Everyone is always eyeing to be the one in line. We have to wait to see what the season brings.”
The Lightning finished 10th at the WIAA Division 1 state meet at Wisconsin Rapids last fall with four sophomores and three freshmen and returns those seven runners.
“Through the season, I knew they had a lot of ability,” Jadin said. “When they qualified for state, that was exciting. I was pleased with their 10th-place finish. I thought their newness might just hit them. They handled themselves well at the state meet. They had a good experience.”
Kimberly’s McKenzie Carper, who finished sixth at the FVA meet in 2012, said her goal for this season goes well past the FVA meet.
“I really want to go as a team to Wisconsin Rapids,” said Carper. “The past three years, we’ve gone as individuals. I would really like for the team to make it all the way there.”
One reason she’d like the Papermakers to qualify as team is that you get your own “box” to be in at the start line.
“When you’re in a box with everyone else (other schools’ individual qualifiers), you can tell that they’re nervous,” she said. “It would be really exciting to have our own Kimberly box.”
Carper is also looking forward to competing in meets against her fellow FVA runners because of all the returning talent.
“It’s going to be really exciting to see how it’s all going to turn out,” she said.
Neenah’s Jessica Parker, who finished fourth at the Division 1 state meet, said some season goals have been set.
“We finished last year first in the conference for varsity and JV,” she said. “We know we’d like to be as successful as last year.”
Parker is now one of the seniors tasked with showing the way for new runners.
“It’s definitely different this year,” Parker said. “I know I’ve had to step up and a lot of our juniors have stepped up. We just try to keep practice fun. Last year’s seniors were great at coming to practice and keeping it fun. We’re just trying to keep it the same way.”
As for who is going to fill those varsity spots vacated by last year’s seniors, Parker said a lot of girls have put in a lot of miles during the off-season to get ready.
“We have a lot of great girls,” Parker said. “We’re looking forward to having a really good team.”
Helping to prepare, Parker and many of her teammates participated in Neenah’s off-season running program.
“We have a 200-mile and a 300-mile program,” she said. “I personally did the 300-mile program, along with a lot of other girls on the team.”
And while some schools struggle to fill their varsity and junior varsity spots for meets, that is not a problem for Neenah.
“We have 82 girls on the team,” Parker said. “Another big turnout. It’s pretty crazy but it’s fun having that many girls.
“We try to make things entertaining and fun all while getting the work done. Also, our coaches do a really great job of preparing fun activities and keeping it not all about the work but knowing how to have fun, too.”
— Jim Oskola: 920-993-1000, ext. 230, or email@example.com