It was hot, and it was muggy, and the already slow Kletzsch Park track was slowed by morning rains, and Whitefish Bay senior cross country runner Sara Coffey couldn't say much positive about the race she ran in the Blue Dukes' own Vanden Avond Invitational on Sept. 19.
Except for the fact that freshman teammate Camille Davre won her second individual title in as many tries, that sophomore teammate Hannah Lyons had a successful debut after coming back from a hip injury, that the girls junior varsity swept the first four places of the individual race, and, oh yes, Bay won the girls team title in the 11-team meet.
"It's always important that we do well at this meet," Coffey said. "We did things a little differently today. We went out a little conservatively (to help Lyons) and it was great to see Hannah do so well, it's just so important for her confidence. It was a great day overall, but as far as my race was concerned, no comment (laughs)."
Alumni watch action
In short, it was a festive gathering of runners in the woods, one that the late Bay coaching legend Richard Vanden Avond, for the whom the meet is named, would have approved of heartily. Current coach Mike Miller might have wished to have taken the talented alumni on hand, Steve Markson, Geoff Horton and Sal Impellitteri, and thrust them into the race to boost the fortunes of an indifferent boys effort.
Markson and Horton are both veterans of the Blue Dukes' state championship team of 2005.
"It was nice seeing all those guys out there, it made it a lot more fun," Miller said. "The rain and the fact that the dew point was screaming high (along with 80-plus degree temperatures) made it so slow though. Far less than ideal, especially considered next to the perfect conditions we had for Arrowhead (the week before)."
The victory for the Blue Duke girls was its first after two runner-up finishes. They entered the week ranked third in the state behind Arrowhead and Neenah after running two races without the tall, long-striding Lyons.
Her return to the lineup and subsequent third-place individual finish was an important harbinger for the Blue Dukes' continued good fortune.
"Hannah ran fantastic," Miller said. "We're very excited to have her back. A few weeks ago we were thinking we might not have her at all (because of a hip problem). We thought there might be a stress fracture. It was definitely a big concern. But it is amazing to have her back."
Lyons finished third on the 4,000-meter layout in 15 minutes, 55 seconds. She was part of a powerful sweep at the top that led the Blue Dukes to a 31-point effort, well ahead of Wisconsin Lutheran's 60.
That effort included the precocious Davre winning her second race in as many tries with a 15:22 clocking, over a minute slower than her razor-fast time at Arrowhead the week before. She said she's having fun right now and was thrilled to see the team get even stronger with Lyons' return.
"I like my teammates so much," she said. "It's fun training together and we bond so well together doing that. I just want to do well here and help the team get back to state."
Coffey was fourth in 16:01. She is very pleased to have a front-runner like Davre on the team this fall.
"She's an amazing runner and so much fun to be with," Coffey said. "It's so exciting to have a runner as good as her here."
Other scoring runners for the Blue Dukes included Reilly Koch in ninth (16:37), and Haleigh Morton in 14th (16:39). Good depth was provided by Kylee Kennedy in 15th (16:39) and Claire Hentzen in 17th (16:40).
Switching game plan
"We actually did something a little different today with the race plan," Miller said. "We wanted to save some energy for the end. Just get the job done there at the finish. It almost worked against us as with 1,200 meters to go I think we were still losing the meet, but I think we made up more than 15-20 points in that last stretch. We got into good position."
But he still has a concern.
"We need to close that gap between or third and fourth runners," he said. "There's a lot of space there and with space comes time and places. We've got to shore that up."
The junior varsity was basking in the glow of a dominating performance that included winner Meghan Graham (17:20), Nina Jankins (17:23), Elise Hotz (17:36) and Jessica O'Neill (17:37) sweeping the first four spots, respectively.
Boys don't fair as well
The less said about the boys race, the better in Miller's eyes, as the Dukes scored 120 points for their spot as Wisconsin Lutheran dominated with 31.
George Papajohn was 10th in 17:11 on the 5,000-meter course and that was the singular highlight from Miller's vantage-point. Patrick Konrath was the only other runner under 18 minutes in 25th (17:55).
"We just struggled a little today for whatever reason," Miller said. "Just a bit of a letdown."
But as noted, it was a festive atmosphere. The meet was overflowing with volunteers willing to help lost patrons and swarms of junior varsity runners were there at the finish of the varsity competition to cheer their teammates on.
"It was a nice feeling to be home and have a lot of alumni, parents and middle school kids there," Miller said echoing Coffey's thoughts. "It's always important that we do well here."
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