By Joe Scalzo
Somewhere in Poland this week, there’s a seventh-grader dreaming about becoming the next Libby Rogenski.
And there’s an eighth-grader training to become the next McKinsie Klim.
And there’s a ninth-grader just trying to keep up, because if the Bulldogs are going to stand on the podium at this week’s Division II state cross country meet, they’ll need freshman Elizabeth Becherer to run the race of her life.
“Obviously, to be there [in Columbus] is great,” said Bulldogs coach Kim Grisdale. “But they want to do a little more than get there.”
For the second straight season — and just the second time in school history — Poland’s girls cross country team is still running on the season’s final weekend. It’s the culimination of a dream that started four years ago, when the Klim triplets — McKinsie, Michelle and Melissa — and Rogenski made a commitment to turn their promise into reality.
“Usually with female runners, when they’re really good their freshman year, you worry if they can hang,” Grisdale said. “Their freshman year, they ran well but didn’t make it out of regionals. Sophomore year, same thing. That started putting the pressure on and to [finish sixth in the state] last year was great, but it really made them hungry.
“This is something they’ve been preparing for since the day after last year’s state meet. And having that experience makes them know exactly what it is they want to do.”
This summer, the girls wanted to get some “fun” sweat pants and “the triplets and Libby all said they wanted gold, because that’s where they wanted to be,” said Grisdale, shaking her head. “They’re very shiny.”
Gold is probably out of the question — Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary was the unanimous No. 1 in the final coaches poll and the Irish dominated last week’s Tiffin regional — but the third-ranked Bulldogs could earn a runner-up trophy.
“I’m excited to see where all their hard work puts them,” Grisdale said. “I hope it pays off for them because they deserve it.”
For all the seniors’ success this season, their impact extends beyond the 20 minutes they’re on the course. They’ve reached out to Poland’s younger runners, cheering on their teammates during middle school races (“In years past, the kids have gone to the bus during those races but they were out there even on yucky days,” Grisdale said), setting a positive example during practice (“They’re such hard workers all the time”) and, well, making cross country kind of cool.
“It’s amazing what this senior class has done for our program, down to the seventh grade and even younger than that,” Grisdale said. “They’ve just changed Poland’s cross country program.”
Grisdale said the seniors made leadership this season a bigger priority than at any point in their career.
“It’s amazing what that does for the younger kids when the older kids suddenly start noticing them,” she said. “I think that was really motivational to a lot of kids. There’s just a lot of excitement at the younger level and the freshmen obviously benefited from a year of training next to the girls. They took those kids to a whole new level and it’s going to pay off in the future.”