Monday, November 8th, 2010
By Bruce Monnin
Minster claims ninth state title, Margin of victory just two points
Cross Country State Championships
  COLUMBUS - Listening to various coaches before the start of the Division III state girls cross country race, the consensus was that the championship would be decided between Liberty Center and West Liberty-Salem.
But at least one coach wasn't buying into that philosophy, as another coach quietly let it be known that Liberty Center had instructed its runners to mark their progress against the Minster girls. The Liberty Center coach still considered the two-time defending champion Lady Wildcats to be the favorite.
The regional results indicated that the Wildcats would probably have to run record times 30 seconds faster than last week to be able to win the state title. They almost pulled it off, as the seven Minster runners averaged 29 seconds faster on the Scioto Downs course.
Faster-than-expected times put Minster in contention for the win. This was apparently not a surprise to the Minster coaches, as assistant coach Nathan Helmstetter suggested before the race to closely watch the finish line.
"It could all come down to the final sprints," he hinted.
The Minster girls all performed at the finish like they knew every point was going to matter. Not all of them were able to pass a competitor before the finish line, but not one of them allowed themselves to be passed.
"We just asked that they fight to the end," explained coach Jessie Magoto. "Our fifth runner (freshman Leah Niekamp) got passed near the finish and then she repassed that runner. I don't think she has ever passed a runner in the final sprint all year. Until today, she didn't need to."
A new feature at the meet this year was an electronic board set up facing the fans which showed results almost as soon as the runners crossed the finish line. The first unofficial results showed Minster in third place behind Liberty Center and Cortland Maplewood.
The results were updated four times when the numbers changed, but the positioning of the teams remained the same. On the fifth update, Minster was shown in first place, three points ahead of Liberty Center.
As the Minster girls were walking back to their camp, they all stopped when word of the unofficial result reached them. Instead of celebrating, they became quiet and nervous. When told the official results showed them winning by two points, they erupted in a celebration more joyous than you would expect to see from a two-time defending champion.
The Wildcats were led by seniors Averie Bornhorst and Maria Dahlinghaus, who were each participating in their fourth state meet. Both girls posted a time over 30 seconds faster than they had in any of their previous visits to the state meet.
Bornhorst, who finished in 26th position, is different from most runners at the state meet since a hip condition prevents her from running on a consistent basis. Instead, some days she trains on a bicycle and other days in a swimming pool, so there is always a chance she'll be in less than top form. Such was not the case Saturday, as she passed two girls coming into the stadium for the final time.
"Having the pressure on made me more pumped to do well," said Bornhorst. "It feels great to win three out of my four years, but it is bittersweet since it is my last race."
Dahlinghaus also thrived in her final race, finishing 45th.
"It was the first year I felt I was a leader on the team," said Dahlinghaus. "Averie and I felt we had to do well."
Dahlinghaus also seemed to indicate that their priorities may explain why the team runs better at state than at regionals.
"Our two biggest races of the year are MAC and state, and we won both of them by two points," said Dahlinghaus.
While the seniors led the way, youth also served the Wildcats well. Sophomore Hannah Butler posted Minster's second-best time at 19:51, a 43-second improvement on last week's performance, and over a minute faster than her state run last year.
"I felt really good and was eager to run. Plus I knew what to expect this year," offered Butler. "Coach told us we couldn't get passed at the end. If any of us had slowed down, we would not be state champions."
While the top three set up the Wildcats for the title, they still came in behind Liberty Center and third-place Cortland Maplewood. In fact, for the third year in a row, the Minster girls won without have the fastest average time from their top five runners (Liberty Center's top five had an average time four seconds faster than Minster's).
The cross country scoring system rewards consistency across all five members, and the performance of two freshmen in fourth and fifth place sealed the Minster win.
Olivia Enneking finished fourth for Minster with a time of 20:08, a 36-second improvement on her regional time. More importantly, she finished nine positions ahead of the fourth-place runner from Liberty Center.
"At regionals I had trouble with the wind," she explained. "I was very excited to be at state and that kept me from being nervous."
The second freshman, Leah Niekamp, finished in 20:36, 37-seconds faster than the previous week. This allowed her to finish 11 positions ahead of the fifth Liberty Center runner and a whopping 47 positions ahead of the fifth from Cortland Maplewood. Niekamp benefited from the crowd being kept further away from the runners at the state meet.
"At regionals I could hear everyone cheering. I was unfocused and kept looking at the people who were yelling," recounted Niekamp.
One final indication of the Minster team strength was evidenced by their sixth-place runner, junior Samantha Hoelscher. While the sixth runner does not count in the team standings, she can hurt the other teams' scores by finishing in front of any of their top five runners. Hoelscher finished ahead of the fifth-place runner of all the 15 other teams competing, and as such accounted for one of the two points in Minster's margin of victory.
Besides being Minster's third straight title, it is the ninth overall in the team's history. This ties the Minster girls with the Caldwell boys' team for the most championships of any cross country program in the state.
It is also the 25th overall state championship for Minster high school, making it one of seven programs in the state of Ohio to reach to quarter-century mark in state championships.
At the celebration at Minster High School on Saturday evening, Magoto was quick to point out that the credit all belongs to the girls, and that the coaches just come along for the ride.
Dahlinghaus was quick to contradict her coach, however.
"Don't listen to her. The coaches are the heart and soul of this team. We just do what they say."
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