While her teammates spiked volleyballs and kicked soccer balls in early August, Erin Gyurke set her sights on becoming a three-time state qualifier.
The Clay High School junior jogged closer to her goal on Oct. 20, advancing from a Division I district cross country meet at Pearson Park.
She coasted to her first district title in 19 minutes, five seconds and qualified for regionals, which were to be held at Hedges Boyer Park in Tiffin, Ohio, on Saturday. The top-four teams and top-16 individual finishers at regionals advanced to the state meet at National Trail Raceway in Hebron, Ohio, on Nov. 3.
“It’s all about qualifying from here on out, and I’m just happy that I qualified,” Gyurke said after blowing away the field at Pearson Park. “Finishing first makes it even better.”
As a result of her fantastic finish, Gyurke helped a Clay team full of multi-sport athletes clinch its first regional berth in two years. The Eagles finished in second place behind powerhouse Notre Dame, the same team that edged the Eagles two weeks earlier at the Three Rivers Athletic Conference championships.
Five Clay runners earned all-conference honors this season. Freshman Haley Hess and twin sister Hannah recorded top-six finishes and joined Gyurke, the TRAC runner of the year, on the conference’s first team. Abbey Groll and Brooke Gyori both earned spots on the honorable mention team, despite focusing some of their attention on other athletic endeavors.
Groll played an integral role on a Clay girls soccer team that won a league championship, and Gyori suited up for the school’s volleyball team.
The Hess sisters also diverted their attention from cross country, joining Groll on the girls’ soccer team.
Their uncle, 25th-year Clay cross country coach Dave Hess, said he encourages his runners to participate in other activities. But when asked if he would rather see his runners spending their time training on the local trails, Hess couldn’t help but thinking about how successful his team might be if his runners focused solely on cross country.
“They don’t know what they’re capable of yet,” he said. “They’ve been playing soccer, so the training isn’t probably where it needs to be, but they’re real competitive girls and the next two weekends will tell us where they’re at.”
Per athletic policy at Clay, student athletes can participate in up to two sports during an athletic season, but they must select a primary sport.
“We’ve realized that we have a limited number of athletes, and our best athletes need to do multiple sports if they can,” Hess said. “You’re going to lose something in the way of training in both sports, but it’s going to make you a better well-rounded athlete.”
Some of Clay’s runners have missed several practices and meets to compete in other sports, but they do train outside of organized team activities.
“They make use of their weekend and run on Sundays,” Hess said. “We try to get at least one hard workout in during the week.”
Gyurke said the team is beginning to form a cohesive bond now that all of the runners have finished competing in other sports.
“To be back and perform as one team is a lot of fun,” said Gyurke, who placed 16th at state last season. “We all want to improve our times and do the best that we can. Having fun is really all that we try to do each week.”