With three returning runners who competed in last year’s girls Division I state cross country meet, Clay coach Dave Hess only had a couple of key spots to fill this fall.
The Eagles welcomed back senior Erin Gyurke and sophomore twins Haley and Hannah Hess this season, and the results so far have pleased their 26th-year coach. Clay placed fifth in the Division I-A race at the Tiffin Carnival, the Eagles’ highest finish ever, boys or girls, at that prestigious meet.
“One thing that really stood out is going to Tiffin,” Hess said. “They were excited to be there to compete against the best teams in the state of Ohio. That showed me a lot about who they are and what they want to accomplish this year.”
Gyurke has proved herself to be one of the top runners in Ohio. A three-time state qualifier, she finished eighth in 18:10.70 at the 2012 state meet.
“She ran faster at the league meet,” Hess said of Gyurke, last year’s Three Rivers Athletic Conference champion who is unbeaten in all of the Eagles’ 5K races this season. “Her best time this year is 18:31.8 and she’s trying to keep improving. Staying healthy is key. She wants to keep getting some quality work in. She’s talked about being on the podium at the state meet again. She’s coming off a good track season and she had a good summer for the first time, and it has carried it over to cross country season.”
Haley and Hannah Hess, the coach’s nieces, earned first-team All-TRAC honors a year ago and also ran at the state meet. Haley finished 56th and Hannah placed 83rd.
“They’ve all been there and they know it’s possible, and they really want a team to be there with them this year,” coach Hess said. “We’ve got our work cut out for us. We have a tough region at Tiffin. Hopefully we’re going to steadily improve heading into that regional meet, and hopefully we can run our best that day as a team.”
Haley has been Clay’s No. 2 runner this season and has fully committed to running cross country. She was also a member of the soccer team last fall, and her season-best time so far is 19:02.7.
“She’s a real competitor,” coach Hess said. “She likes to get into a race and race. She doesn’t like to lose. She’s stronger, and she’s also coming off a great track season where she placed in the state meet in the mile as a freshman. She’s ahead of where she was last year.”
Hannah has turned in a season-best time of 20:06.2. Coach Hess said she is – surprise! - a mirror image of her sister Haley.
“She’s a competitor, too,” the coach said. “She doesn’t like to lose. That’s what I like about them best. When it’s time to lace them up, they’re ready to race. They bring a real competitive atmosphere to the team.”
The Eagles’ No. 4 runner is freshman Sydney Hess, also the coach’s niece, who has a season-best time of 21:05.9.
“She’s doing two sports, and playing soccer as her primary sport,” coach Hess said. “She’s trying to do a lot of training with some of the other dual-sport athletes. She’s learning to run competitive high school cross country. She’s really starting to see that you really have to work at it, because there are a lot of competitive girls out there. She’s really talented, too.”
Junior Brooke Gyori, who also plays on the volleyball team, is Clay’s No. 5 runner and has a season-best time of 21:29.2.
“She loves to run,” Hess said. “She’s really stepped up to be a leader for our dual-sport athletes, getting them together on Sundays. When the rest of the team is off, they get together on Sunday after volleyball and soccer practice to get a quality run.”
Rounding out the Eagles’ lineup are freshman Caitlyn Kuecher (21:42.7), who also play soccer, freshman Madison Miller (22:06.2) and junior Jessy Bohland (23:57.6).
The Eagles won their opening meet of the season, the eight-team South Lyons Invitational in Michigan. They won a quad meet in Tiffin, and on Tuesday they defeated Whitmer, Central Catholic, Springfield, St. Ursula Academy, Oak Harbor and Lake at Pearson Park.
They will soon get their chance to unseat Notre Dame Academy as the TRAC champion. Notre Dame nipped runner-up Clay by two points last year.
“Winning the league,” Hess said, “is definitely a team goal.”