After Woodward-Granger football kicked off the school year with a scrimmage on Friday, the cross country officially started fall sports by hosting the season-opening meet at Jester Park on Monday, Aug. 26. The second year the team has hosted the event, both the boys and girls grabbed third place team finishes to start to the year exceeding expectations.

“We’re actually a lot farther ahead this year than last year. Probably three meets compared to where we were to start the season,” Smeltzer said of the girls team. “We’ve been doing a lot more distance practice. Gotta get the miles. It’s all about the mile and the same thing for the boys. We’re way ahead of where we were last year so by the end of the season come October, November we should be pretty tough.”

Part of that confidence comes from the addition of state track qualifier senior Emma Drake. In her first ever cross country meet, she placed third overall with a time of 24 minutes 20 seconds despite having to split practice time with volleyball.

“She’s got a mental toughness that I wish a lot of other kids could get,” Smeltzer said.

After the meet, Drake said she thinks a sub-24 time is well within range to claim gold. Katie Donaldson (23:48) of Clarke was the only girl to finish with such a time Monday.

“It’s definitely intense. It takes a lot,” Drake said looking back at her first run, keeping pace with a number of top runners including first-place Katie Donaldson (23:48) of Clarke.

The W-G boys also gave a strong showing. All seven varsity runners put in times under 23 minutes with seniors Dylan Steele (20:01) and Alex Bice (20:38) leading the way with third and seventh place finishes.

Despite the strong finish, Steele said he can improve more the next meet and needs to continue his training for upcoming, challenging courses.

“I feel like I could probably do better and stick with the people in front more often but the hills killed,” Steele continued. “I feel like if I trained them more, then I could probably be up there with the first and second place guys.”

Smeltzer agreed and said the whole team will be working on running and pacing hill work with courses like Madrid on the docket.

But more than course-specific training, he said he’d like to see more consistency on the course.

“It’s a mental thing and a pacing thing,” he said looking at times that could be improved upon in the back half of the ranking that he thinks could have varsity-level times with more work. “I need them to get over that hump because the fast runners we need them there [in case] somebody goes down.”

A four-point margin was all that separated W-G (59) from the first place trophy as Saydel (55) and Green County (57) grabbed gold and silver respectively.

W-G seniors Caleb Jones (21:11) and Jack Grell (21:15) were just seconds away from climbing the leaderboard as well for Woodward.

The girls side of things was a bit more competitive as West Marshall (28) cruised to first place followed by Baxter (67) and the Hawks (74). Natalie Helbling (27:16) and Ava Petersen (27:35) finished 15th and 16th respectively and look to get into the top 10 in upcoming meets for the Hawks.

Next up is a trip to Grant’s Woods Park for a meet with Madrid on Thursday, Sept. 5 at 5 p.m.