COLLEGE HILL — It’s the second straight year, and fifth in the last seven years, that McAuley cross country has qualified as a team out of the district meet to the regional.
“It was an important accomplishment for this particular team,” said McAuley coach Ron Russo. “We had had a couple of rough patches throughout the year, but we really focused on establishing an identity. You can’t just have seven kids out there running on their own and how you finish is how you finish. We really focused on that. We don’t have that big-time all-state runner yet, so it was critical that we try to develop a path, trying to get the kids to understand that talent-wise, there wasn’t much difference between our first kid and our seventh kid.”
The Mohawks took fourth place at the Division I district meet Oct. 24 at Voice of America Park. Only the top four team and top 16 individuals qualify to the regional.
McAuley was led by sophomore Emily Anneken in 10th with a time of 19:41.3. Senior Natalie Lienhart was 17th in 19:59.0, followed by senior Anna Sontag in 23rd with a time of 20:27.1. Junior Annie Klein ran 30th in 20:42.2, one spot ahead of freshman Isabelle Dorr in 20:42.2. Junior Emma Fitz ran 20:57.8 for 36th and senior Maggie Olding ran 21:01.7 for the 38th spot.
The Mohawks truly used the season to their advantage. Russo said back at the beginning of the fall season, McAuley finished 12th at the Moeller Invitational, and while Anneken was out injured, it wasn’t the start they were looking for, but it was a start, something to build on.
“You’re gonna take your lumps early in the year,” Russo said. “The kids really focused on getting better each week. They were patient with their training and as the season moved on; we got Emily back into the lineup and all the sudden we started to get better each week.”
In its final regular season meet this year, McAuley went to Anna, as it does most years. That’s where it all began to click.
“It was one of the best performances (at Anna) in the seven years I’ve been here. We win the meet and had five kids within 17 seconds,” said Russo.
The following week, at the Girls Greater Catholic League meet, McAuley finished fifth and went right back to work.
“They sort of shifted right into the mindset. Now, it’s high stakes; you don’t run well, you go home,” Russo said.
The Mohawks have come a long way. Russo said teams that beat McAuley by triple digits early in the season, the Mohawks are now level with or ahead of.
Realistically, McAuley’s not where Russo one day wants it to be. He wants the Mohawks competing every year for state titles.
Russo said Lienhart is one of a few kids in McAuley history to be a four-time, first-team All-GGCL runner. Anneken was also first-team All-GGCL this year and All-District. Klein and Dorr were both honorable mention All-GGCL.