Clay girls cross country coach Dave Hess would like to get excited, but not too excited, about the Eagles’ potential in 2014.
After all, Clay finished eighth at last Saturday’s Division I state meet in Hebron despite not having its top runner, senior Erin Gyurke, at full strength. The Eagles, whose seven-runner lineup included one junior, two sophomores and three freshmen, scored 236 points to finish one point behind seventh-place Gahanna Lincoln.
“A lot of things can happen in a year,” Hess said. “I hope to be as competitive next year as this year, but we have to keep getting better. It takes a lot of hard work. Hopefully, this group of girls will do what it takes. Hopefully, they play some winter sports and get back at it during track season. A good track season will lead into a good cross country season.”
Hess said none of his runners ran their season best at the state meet, but they were close. Sophomore Haley Hess, the regional champion a week earlier at Tiffin, placed sixth in 18:41.
“Not a whole lot of (runners) ran PR’s (personal records) down there,” coach Hess said. “It was that kind of a day, with that course. Hannah (Hess) had one of her better races, and Haley had a good race. The rest of them all ran pretty solid races, right near their PR. It was a solid team effort, and that’s why we finished eighth.”
Hess said the plan for Haley Hess was for her to be in the top 10 at about the mile marker and “run that second mile solid.”
“She was 11th at the mile, right behind the 10th-place girl,” coach Hess said. “She looked really relaxed. She out-kicked some girls down the stretch. She was excited.”
Haley’s younger sister Sydney, a freshman, placed 72nd in 19:39, while Haley’s twin sister, Hannah, was 83rd in 19:47.
Clay freshman Caitlyn Kuecher took 89th in 19:52, followed by Gyurke (139th, 20:43), junior Brooke Gyori (149th, 21:11) and freshman Madison Miller (151st, 21:27).
“Our goal was to try to finish in the top half,” coach Hess said of the 16-team field. “We wanted to beat Rocky River, which beat us in the regional, and we wanted to beat Brunswick. We did get Rocky River (12th), but not Brunswick (6th). We thought we could get Perrysburg (5th) if we ran a great race, if everybody was healthy. It’s hard when you lose the No. 1 runner and still compete at a high level. We did a good job with that.”
Gyurke, the individual champion at last month’s Three Rivers Athletic Conference meet, fell ill during last week’s regional and had to drop out late in the race. She placed 16th at the state meet as a sophomore and took eighth, in 18:10, last season.
Coach Hess said his star runner was “day-to-day” heading into the state meet.
“She didn’t run all week,” he said. “She had low ferritin levels, which is related to iron. Her ferritin scores were really low, which made her weak and harder to recover from injuries. It caught up to her at regionals. That effort really took a lot out of her and she felt really fatigued.”
Hess said he was proud of Gyurke’s effort.
“We wanted her to hold back a little bit, go out with Haley and see what she can do,” the coach said. “She knew at three quarters of a mile she wasn’t going to stick there. She ended up finishing and being our fifth runner, so she scored for the team. She was our leader at the meet. She just led from the fifth position instead of the first position.”