By BRETT MARSHALL
For a team with no previous cross country running experience, the Lady Indians of Wichita County have certainly come a long way.
That was never more evident than Saturday at the Meade Golf Club where the youthful squad ran their way into both a team and individual title at the Class 2A regional meet.
Freshman Paige Wells was the individual winner for the Lady Indians, but it was a team effort that helped capture the title with 42 points to outdistance traditional Hi-Plains League and 2A power Stanton County's 56 points.
For their effort, the Lady Indians cross country team has been selected the Telegram's Athletes of the Week.
"I challenged them at the first of the year," said Mehl, now in his eighth year. "I don't know how good you can be, but let's see how far we can go together."
More amazing to Mehl, though, is that neither his team, nor Wells, had won a title throughout the 2009 season — until Saturday.
"I think it really is an amazing accomplisment when you consider all the factors that go into Saturday's race," Mehl said. "Paige put the run together, a perfect race, and for a freshman to do that, it's a special thing to be part of."
Mehl's other freshman, Nicole Huber, finished fifth, her best place of the season, and sophomore Sarah Ridder added another top 10 finish for the team. Juniors Hannah Mehl and Rachel Busch placed 17th and 18th to round the team score.
"The others ran uncharacteristically well, but I think it's been building that way all season," Mehl said. "I've felt all along that we've continued to learn through the season. I want the girls to tell me about their race, what did you learn from this?"
The key, according to Mehl, is what coaches call "pack" running. The goal is to have your fifth runner's time be as close to your first runner's time, giving the team the optimum chance for lowest point total.
Mehl's goal for the season was to have that time difference be about one minute, 30 seconds. It had been as much as two minutes, 30 seconds for much of the season, again until Saturday. It was 1:36 during the regional race over the hilly Meade layout.
"I told the girls on the way home that this is just an indicator of how good they can be," Mehl said. "I try to not worry them about places, times, but just to go out and run their best and let the results take care of themselves. If we do that Saturday (state meet at Wamego), we'll do just fine."
Mehl said one of his favorite mottos he uses is "Plan Your Race, Race Your Plan." That was executed to near-perfection on Saturday.
"We're just striving for more consistency for each runner," Mehl said. "I think this group has worked exceptionally hard considering that none of them had ever run a 2.5 mile race before this season. It's great to see their hard work pay off."
Other top performances this past week included:
Ulysses Boys Cross Country team: The Tigers won the Class 4A regional team title at Lake Afton in Wichita, paced by sophomore Israel Mendoza. It was the team's first regional title in 14 years. Also, senior Janni Meierhoff placed fourth to earn a spot in the 4A state meet this Saturday.
Kayson Matthews, Lakin: The senior cross country runner continued his dominance by winning the individual title Saturday at the Class 3A regional in Cimarron. Matthews had been ill a week ago and had to drop out of the Hi-Plains League race but bounced back to win against an impressive field.
Holcomb's Boys Cross Country team: The Longhorns began defense of their Class 3A state title by winning the team championship at Cimarron. The Longhorns were paced by senior Michael Wolf, who placed second to Matthews.
Greeley County Girls and Boys Cross Country teams: The Lady Jackrabbits, who are the defending state champs, won the Class 1A regional team title as Madison Moser claimed the individual title. The Jackrabbits boys narrowly lost (20-22) to defending state champion Ness City for the team title and Isaac Wilson placed second.
Stanton County Boys Cross Country team: The Trojans, with senior Eric Ruth's individual title leading the way, won the Class 2A team crown at Meade.
Kayla Thomas, South Gray cross country: The senior Thomas continued to be among the top 1A distance runners by winning individual honors at the regional meet at Meade. She has only lost to Greeley County's Moser and to Meierhoff from Ulysses in area meets this fall.