By Bruce Monnin
COLUMBUS -- All year long, the Minster and Versailles girls have been battling each other for local cross country supremacy.
Saturday, they took their local battle to Scioto Downs with the state cross country championship on the line.
In many ways, this season mirrored the year before. The Lady Wildcats looked good early, beating Versailles at the Tiffin Carnival and leading the early polls. Versailles came back and won the Coldwater Lions invitational, before Minster bounced back to win the MAC meet. Versailles then proceeded to defeat Minster at last week's regional meet, and captured the final cross country poll of the season.
As the race started, it quickly became apparent the two teams were going to be very close. An unofficial check at the two-mile mark showed Minster ahead by a solitary point. Then runners on both teams started to move up through the field in the final mile.
Minster's Brigitte Sherman finished seventh in the field, four spots ahead of Versailles' Kristin Smith. She got out to a strong start to avoid the crowded field, then set her sights on the rabbit ahead. "I just wanted to be able to see Sarah Schulze (who won the race)," said Sherman. "I still could at the end."
The difference in the race may have been Minster's second-place runner, Jenna Fausey, who improved 10 places in the final mile to finish 18th, just two spots behind Versailles' second-place runner Caitlin Liette. The Minster #3 runner, Katie Dahlinghaus, then finished one place ahead of Versailles' Kristen Grillot.
Senior Kara Niekamp finished next for the Wildcats, followed six runners later by both the fourth and fifth Versailles runners, Kristen Phlipot and Katie Mastemaker. But right behind them was the #5 Minster runner, Cecilia Slonkoski, who sliced over a minute and a half off of her time from last week's regional race.
Versailles coach Mark Pleiman was disappointed, yet proud that his program has reached a point where finishing second at the state meet is a letdown.
"I'm very proud of our girls. I guess it was Minster's turn. We just kept going back and forth throughout the season. Maybe we shouldn't have beaten them last week," Pleiman joked. "Both teams just ran an awesome race. Kristen Philpot and Katie Mestemaker, those two freshmen gave everything they had in the last half mile and passed a lot of kids."
Minster coach Jessie Magato, never expected to win a state title at the beginning of the season. She was not alone, as the Wildcats graduated four seniors from last year's seven runners at state, including state champion Sunni Olding.
"I never expected us to be in this position. I thought we'd be struggling just to get here. Then all of a sudden the girls started running well," explained Magato. "There were only three girls who had ever been here (at state) before. I didn't know how the leadership roles would change (with losing five seniors from last year) but Kara Niekamp, our senior, took everything on herself and carried those girls. These girls never let any pressure get to them."
No matter what her opinion was to start the year, the focus of the Wildcats was always set firmly on Columbus.
"Even though at the beginning of the year I was apprehensive, the goal is always the same. Our goal is to be state champions," state Magato.
When asked if she could explain the improvement of the Minster girls from last week's regional, Magato was quick to pinpoint the difference.
"Last week they were running by themselves. The real difference today was they really ran as a team. Last week they ran really flat, but this week I saw a lot of heart."
This is the fifth state cross country title for the Minster girls. It is also the 20th championship overall to be brought back to Minster high school.