This was a strong season, with one eye on the present and another on a bright future.
If 2021 Cathedral High School girls cross country had a theme, that was it. The result was a strong finish to the season, which made the program’s second season under coach Allie Griffith successful and productive.
“I love where this program is heading,” Griffith said.
Irish girls cross country in ’21 not only finished second in a rainy, memorable City Meet, they finished seventh in the Section 20 meet with 149 points – behind North Central (38), Brebeuf Jesuit (79), Bishop Chatard (85), Park Tudor (115), Pike (118) and Lawrence North (133).
Those were two of several strong performances late in a season in which Griffith said the Irish continued to embrace change and a new approach to the program.
“We made a lot of changes in our training,” she said. “We adapted to where the girls were after a nonnormal year of running [because of COVID-19] to look ahead and align with our track program – to make that a cohesive program. We’re trying to look at the year progression and say, ‘It’s not June through October for these girls. We need to make this training last throughout the year as well.’
“We’re excited to see more commitment even from our younger girls and continuing to get a strong senior group to lead us.”
Sophomore Lucille Marquart finished 19th at sectional in 21:09.1, followed by junior Dearbhla Delaney 28th in 21:40.5, junior Brooke Wojcieszek 31st in 21:48.2, senior Kylee Lucas 34th in 21:56.9, senior Reese Sanders 37th in 22:10.7, senior Sara Wojtalik 45th in 23:25.8 and junior Madeline Taylor.
While the Irish did not advance to the Region 10 meet at Noblesville as a team, five runners advanced as individuals. Sanders finished 39th at the regional in 20:36.3, followed by Marquart 43rd in 20:42.9, Delaney 53rd in 21:08.3, Wojcieszek 74th in 21:56.4 and Lucas 78th in 22:21.0.
“We were grateful to have almost our whole team go [to the regional meet], so that was great,” Griffith said. “We had a lot of girls run their best times on that sectional day. They really pulled through for us, which was great. The way we posed it was there’s literally nothing to lose here. You can go out and run your best race and give it everything.
“In some ways, that relaxed them a bit and made the pressure seem less intense.”
Another season highlight came in the City Meet, with the Irish turning in a strong performance in a downpour to finish second behind Chatard.
“We almost didn’t get to race the jayvee race [because of the rain],’’ Griffith said. “They ended up combining it with the boys. It was cool to see our girls grind it out in those conditions. We had a lot of girls PRs that day, which was crazy in the rain to do that.
“That was our last meet with everybody – varsity, jayvee and freshman – and I think that was special. We didn’t have that last year; a lot of meets were just varsity. I think that was cool, to get everyone together, close to home, a lot of parents out. That was a highlight, for sure.”
Griffith cited a strong senior class of Sanders, Sara Wotalik, Lucas and Madison Gatto for strong leadership.
“We had a really strong group of seniors,” she said. “Most of them tended to lead more by example than vocally – which I think sometimes is needed. They were excited to have a normal season back, whereas last year we didn’t have a lot of bonding opportunities.
“The camaraderie looked a lot different than last year. They were excited to bring back a lot of traditions and just embrace, ‘Hey, this is what cross-country season is. We’re going to get this last year, so let’s make the most of it.’’’
The Irish were led not only by a strong class of juniors, but by a sophomore class led by Marquart and Tess Wojtalik and a deep freshman class led by three runners who competed in varsity meets this season.
“We were definitely young,” Griffith said. “We had a smaller group of seniors compared to last and our ‘core’ varsity group was mostly juniors. Their sophomore year was a COVID year, but I think that makes us excited for next year because we’ll have that whole group of juniors as seniors.
“Anytime there’s change, especially when it comes to culture and a new coaching staff, there obviously is going to be adversity. It’s not always an easy transition. I’ve been grateful to have a coaching staff and two great senior groups open to embracing those changes and retaining a lot of the traditions that were here even before I got here. It’s been a balance.
“We’re definitely sad to see our seniors go. That was a great group – even beyond running, they’re leadership was really needed. But it does excite us as coaches to see a core coming back that has run at the varsity level for more than three years. That’s something to look forward to for sure.”