As part of a youth movement, the girls’ cross country team took a full squad to state for the first time in six years.
It looks like the only thing that will change is a move up in its state finish.
As a team, the Panthers finished eighth overall in Class 6A and lost just one runner (Marah Franke) that contributed to their stellar finish.
Now a junior and a returning state qualifier, Ashlyn Struble will be the most experienced runner back from last season.
“Ashlyn has been to state twice now, and I’m sure she wants to take another team,” coach Jimmy Adams added.
At least four others are prepared to fill the void that Franke left on the roster.
“Marah was more like a general last season,” Adams said. “Ashlyn leads more by example and the other kids see the work she puts in, but [she] is quieter. [Sophomore] Vivian Kalb is more outgoing.”
Although Struble will be the team’s elder, Kalb had the team’s best finish at the state meet. As a freshman, Kalb finished 35th at state. Struble was 40th, while sophomore Abigail Monaghan rounded out Derby’s top three with a 45th-place finish.
Struble, Kalb and Monaghan are all poised for an even better finish in 2019. They want to be better than each other, which has led to improvement for a team that’s already talented.
“I think their motivation is really for each other,” Adams said. “They want to leave their own mark on Derby cross country and that drives them to get better.”
The Panthers put in almost too much work this past offseason and Adams had to keep tabs on how much the team ran, which – for a coach – is one of the best problems to have.
“One of the hardest parts of my job is watching miles, making sure they don’t run too much,” he said. “I really don’t have to worry about them.”
The Panthers’ offseason workouts weren’t as focused on miles as much as the intensity of the miles.
“We want to get some more speed in their legs,” the Derby coach added.
The approach is useful as cross country can feel
more like a five-kilometer sprint. Although distance training is important, speed wins.
The Derby coach was involved with the team’s conditioning for most of the summer. The first week of July was the first time all summer he didn’t have any coach contact with his team, which is a statewide rule.
“They send me their mileage, which is great,” he said.
Adams spoke glowingly about not only their talent and preparation, but also about their personality. When asked what he likes about his team, it was a one-word answer.
“They’re awesome kids, awesome to be around,” he said. “We really want them to be successful. They’re great teammates and they’re all very competitive.”
Adams feels bad for his girls’ team because most years, any one of them would be Derby’s top runner. To have too many runners that can be the No. 1 on the team is a great problem to have, however.
The Panthers’ best could win them a league title as last year they scored 12 more points than Maize to finish second in 2018.
Derby’s top goal in 2019 is to put their best on the course each race, but Adams said he would love to win league and do damage at state.
“The girls really want to be a team others have to take seriously at that level,” he said. “We want to take the whole team again.”
If the Panthers land in a similar regional as last season, that goal is certainly realistic. Kalb, Struble and Monaghan finished second, third and fourth respectively, at last year’s regional meet.
“We’re looking for big things out of Bridget McAdams,” Adams said. “Gretta McEntire, as well. We really should be strong [from top to bottom].”
McAdams, who’ll be a sophomore, finished third in the JV league race and was the Panthers’ top finisher. McEntire finished 26th in the varsity race.
“Bridget ran her best race of the season at state, so that was great,” Adams added.
Adams was impressed with what he saw from his young runners in 2018 and that will only feed into 2019.
“All our young runners have only gotten stronger and more mature,” he said. “They’ve grown closer because of the experience they have.”