They endured and overcame.
If a thread ran through Cathedral High School girls cross country in Allie Griffith’s first season as head coach, that may have been it. The Irish faced uncertainty. They dealt with adversity. They learned a new system.
They succeeded through it all, and that made for a significant season.
“The theme for the season – considering everything – was ‘Expect the unexpected,’ and I think our girls responded really well to that,” Griffith said.
The Irish in 2020 not only advanced as a team to the regional meet, they finished second to Bishop Chatard at the City Championship – where junior Reese Sanders finished fifth individually. They also finished second to Chatard at the All-Catholic meet.
“I’m really excited to see what some of our girls can do next year with that full training and with a year of our culture,” Griffith said.
A full offseason and season were something the Irish didn’t get in 2020. Griffith succeeded longtime coach Mark Doctor in May. COVID-19 made the season uncertain at that point, and the pandemic created uncertainty around preparation that lasted into the season.
The Irish’s first three meets of 2020 were then canceled because of COVID-19 concerns.
“It’s hard to have the perspective of any other year,” Griffith said. “The Covid stuff was just crazy. We were told one thing one week and the next the rules would change. I’m really lucky to have four great assistants: Brian Gross, John O’Hara, Katie Waggoner and Melissa Haley; they were huge because we had to keep girls in groups because of contact tracing.
“We had a system where we could do everything safely, so that was huge.”
Early meetings were limited to videoconference because of the pandemic, and Griffith first met face-to-face with the team in July. COVID-19 also prevented the Irish from training as a team until then.
“There’s a transition when there’s a new coach or a new system, but I think that transition was made even bumpier at points because of navigating Covid,” Griffith said. “But having said that, we were really lucky we were able to run. Our season was made even better by how our seniors responded to that. Their leadership was crucial.”
Key to the senior class was Ellie Thor, a four-year varsity runner who Griffith called “really key to our success.”
“I have to give her a shout-out,” Griffith said. “She without a doubt is one of the most mature, level-headed, positive athletes I’ve ever worked with. She was someone I could trust to lead by example. She was really vocal and she’s run consistently at the varsity level since she was a freshman, so she had that experience.
“I’m so thankful we had her as someone who could keep that chaos at bay. She was just so level-headed about everything. She was great.”
Junior Reese Sanders, running cross country for the first time, also emerged as a team leader. She qualified for the semi-state meet, finishing 87th there with a time of 20:26.3.
“She kind of came out of nowhere,” Griffith said. “She ended up getting to semi-state for us without ever having run [cross country] before, which was huge.”
The Irish finished 10th in the Section 10 meet at Noblesville with 232 points. Sanders qualified for the semi-state meet by finishing 25th with a time of 19:26.4 followed by Thor (40th, 19:56.2), sophomore Sally Bradshaw (66th, 21.07.0), junior Sara Wojtalik (69th, 21:11.8), freshman Teresa Wojtalik (70th, 21:15.), sophomore Catherine Holtrup (75th, 21:30.0) and sophomore Dearbhla Delaney (85th, 22:19.7).
The Irish advanced to the regional meet by tying for fifth in the Section 20 meet at Brebeuf Jesuit; Cathedral had 118 points to tie with Bishop Chatard for fifth. Sanders finished 12th in 20:00, with freshman Lucy Marquart finishing 18th in 20:14, Thor finishing 19th in 20:14, sophomore Sally Bradshaw finishing 31st in 21:20, Wojtalik finishing 38th in 22:01, Sara Wojtalik finishing 39th in 22:13 and Delaney finishing 42nd in 22:39.
Sophomores Grace Bragg and Brooke Wojcieszek started the season strong and were among the Irish’s top runners before being unable to compete in the postseason because of injuries. Marquart also spent the season as one of the Irish’s top two or three runners.
“We’re overall a really young team,” Griffith said. “Those young runners did really great for us early on. Their positivity and response to weathering changes every week … when I look back, I’ll just be really thankful for that.
“Mark Doctor did a great job establishing a great culture with these girls. They had graduated some really top-notch seniors and we were really young. I’m hopeful we can do some really exciting things.”