SYMMES TWP – Two weeks ago, Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy cross country head coach Stephen Carter gave his team the day off from practice because of soggy conditions.
The response from the team, particularly junior Rachel Haslem, wasn’t the one Carter would have received three years ago.
“Back then, a canceled practice would have been celebrated,” the coach said. “This time, they were legitimately upset. Rachel was worried she wasn’t going to be adequately prepared for a meet we had that weekend.”
Due to limited numbers and the successes of CHCA’s other programs such as football and volleyball, Carter said cross country hasn’t had much time to shine in previous years.
This year, that’s beginning to change. The team’s new attitude and a few first-place finishes in meets could signal the genesis of something good for the program.
“It’s really exciting,” Carter said. “Our team is made up of girls who are all juniors or younger and some of them are really strong runners.”
Leading the way for the Eagles is Haslem, junior Laura Dykstra and freshman Maria Pancioli. That trio goes 1-2-3 in terms of top times in the Miami Valley Conference this season.
Haslem, who was the program’s first runner to qualify for regionals in 6-7 years, is putting together a strong season.
She led the team in its Cincinnati Country Day Invitational win and helped it win the Norwood Indian Run. In the Mason Invitational earlier this month, Haslem took 11th in the Division I race. Carter said they entered her in that race because they wanted to see how she’d do against D-I competition.
Her time would have won her the Division II race ahead of Mariemont’s Marin Valentine.
“Hopefully, Rachel will be down under 19 minutes, qualify for regionals again and make it out,” Carter said.
He said Dykstra is starting to gain confidence as a runner and is finding an inner drive she didn’t know she had before.
Runners typically find a stride they are comfortable with and stick with it. Dykstra is stepping out of that zone and pushing herself.
She’s turned in a new personal record and has hit every time goal that’s been set for her.
Pancioli is the team’s third-strongest runner and is the sister of JP, the boys team’s No. 2. She not only comes from a family of runners, she also has the inner drive too.
“The second day of practice she was asking me the qualifying times to make varsity,” Carter said.
A few years ago, Carter said the team barely had enough runners to qualify as a team. Now, the total number of runners between the boys and girls teams has risen to 19.
“We’re building,” Carter said.