Waynedale girls going to state cross country for first time

Waynedale girls going to state cross country for first time

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The Waynedale girls cross country team announces itself loud and proud before the start of every race.

“Let me hear your war cry!” senior Karissa Yoder yells out shortly before the starter’s gun goes off.

Then, the Golden Bears’ runners shout out their own unique, emphatic cheers.

The pre-race ritual has worked like a charm, sparking Waynedale to the program's first trip to the State Cross Country Meet in school history.

Waynedale placed second in Div. III at the Youngstown Boardman Regional on Oct. 30 to earn their spot in state championship at Fortress Obetz Park on Nov. 6.

“The war cry helps the girls have some fun and relax a little bit before each race,” said sixth-year Waynedale cross country coach Jared Zollars, whose team had been stopped short of state at the regional twice in the previous three years. “We don’t want them to be uptight.”

Zollars, a 2010 West Holmes graduate, was a state qualifier in the 800-meter run in track and a regional cross country qualifier. He was more excited to see his girls team advance to the state meet than when he did it as a high schooler.

“Seeing how hard these kids have worked, not just this year but over the years, it was a great feeling,” Zollars said. “A few of my seniors were in the very first group I coached here. I’ve been working with them in cross country and track since they were in seventh grade.”

Senior Kylee Gray led Waynedale in the regional by placing ninth out of 109 runners in 21:08. Literally one step behind her was sophomore teammate Clara Sundberg, who finished 10th in 21:09.

The duo both locked up individual qualifying for themselves, but after the rest of the Bears’ pack finished strong it meant the whole team was headed to Obetz.

“It's a wonderful feeling to take a team down with us and make this year really great not only for ourselves to go to state but for the whole team,” Gray said.

For much of the season Gray had been Waynedale’s clear leader, but Sundberg has turned in her best races lately to run right with the team leader.

“It's really great,” Gray said. “I spend a lot of my time running by myself so it's really nice to have a buddy with me.”

Sundberg never imagined she’d wind up being able to challenge Gray.

“I never imagined I would be at this point in my running career,” said Sundberg, whose senior brother Jake qualified for the state wrestling meet as a sophomore. “It feels so good to be with her and have her push me along as we race together.

“(The regional meet) was definitely one of the most incredible experiences I've ever felt. It was just such an amazing moment to see the rest of our team celebrate our runner-up finish.”

Gray took Sundberg under her wing in the summer and has trained with her ever since, Zollars said.

“Kylie has been pretty dominant at being toward the front for us,” Zollars said. “She's been our No. 1 girl, really since her sophomore year.

“Clara had been usually about 20 to 30 seconds back of Kylie, but then at our WCAL championship Clara had a phenomenal race and actually ended up passing Kylie. She saw what she was capable of and since then has been running right with Kylie.”

Junior Allison Moore (26th, 22:09), senior Kylie Nussbaum (35th, 22:39) and senior Alyce Yoder (42nd, 22:54) completed the Bears’ scoring. Junior Sydney Reber (45th, 22:57) and Karissa Yoder (98th, 26:21), who’s been battling an injury, also competed for Waynedale.

Third-ranked Gilmour Academy won the regional with 76 points, followed by No. 13 Waynedale (107), No. 23 Mineral Ridge (115) and No. 16 McDonald. No. 21 Dalton placed seventh, Rittman finished ninth and Loudonville was 10th.

“What sealed the deal for our team at the regional was our No. 3 through 5 and 6 runners really stepping it up,” Zollars said. “I had the feeling that both Clara and Kylie would be somewhere around the top 10-16.

“I knew going to state would depend on Allison, Kylie, Alyce and Sydney and they ran some of the best races of the season. Based on times, Kylie was ranked 43rd and she got 35th. Alyce was ranked 67th and got 42nd.”

Sophomore Jayla Smith will be the state alternate and transfer Jasmine Kerby is also on the roster, but had to sit out the postseason due to transfer rules.

Qualifying individually in Div. III from the area were Rittman’s Pyper Gibson (2nd, 19:42) and Merrick Gibson (11th, 21:16), along with Loudonville’s Catlyn Kauffman (16th, 21:43).

Zollars, who said assistant coach Shuana Pittman has been a huge help to the program, has told the girls to soak up the atmosphere of the state meet. And, most importantly, keep having fun.

“The speed of the race is going to be a lot faster than what they're used to,” Zollars said. “They need to view it as an opportunity, something that's fun and not stressful and I think they'll run well.

“We’re going with the mindset to get as close to Gilmour as we can and try to beat them. If we can do that, we’ll wind up with a pretty good finish.”