A Tale of Two Regionals

A firsthand recap of Saturday’s cross country Regionals

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Ally Stapleton, Editor in Chief

It was cold. It was wet. It was muddy. And we qualified for states.

Twice, this has been the story for the girls cross country team: once in 2013 when I was a sophomore, and once again this past Saturday, at the last Regional meet of my high school cross country career. Both times, we finished just behind Traverse City Central and Rockford, and both times, the conditions were anything but ideal. Both times, we triumphed. I’ve been lucky enough to be a member of both those teams, the only teams from FHC to have qualified for the state finals since 2002.

The road to states is long and hard for any team. For us, for some reason, it always ends in the mud.

When we qualified my sophomore year, we did it in the mud of Grand Traverse Resort’s golf course, up multiple long, punishing hills, with snow flying across our shorts and tank tops. We did it with no seniors, with big, bright green bows in our hair, with an eleven-year legacy of not qualifying motivating us. We celebrated with giant tree branches that we dragged across the course in a cold-induced state of hysteric joy, waving them around in wild jubilation, too ecstatic to notice how we couldn’t feel our fingers and were still a three-hour bus ride away from home.

When we did it again my senior year, we did it at Allendale High School, across windy, wide-open fields and tractionless stretches of mud through the woods, with rain misting a frigid numbness over our same shorts and tank tops. We did it with three four-year veterans and two first-timers, with tight, forest-green bows in our hair and the sting of last year’s fourth place finish gnawing at us. We celebrated with blanket-wrapped hugs in the driving rain, too cold and too wet to provide each other with any warmth, yet too ready for states to be anything but happy.

We walked off the course on Saturday with cross country’s trademark mix of joy and sadness: relief at the pain being over, regret about what could have been done better, disappointment on some faces, excitement on others. As the seven of us stumbled out of the chute that day, we were mud-stained, wind-bitten warriors, just like a different seven of us had been two years prior. Out of the chute and towards the state finals at Michigan International Speedway we walked together, just as we had in 2013. But, for all its resemblance to the regional meet of two years ago, this year’s regional meet had its own story.

Through the rainy haze of that meet was the story of a team which lost its two top runners last year and entered the season unsure of how they would perform, armed with only a few promising summer workouts and a couple of old goals as they entered their first conference meet of the season. A team who ended up defeating the defending Division 2 state champions for the conference title. It’s a story of setbacks, of injuries that lead to forced and unwanted rest, of juggling running with a million other things, of not sleeping nearly enough and of destressing together in the locker room. The story of a coach who never gets called by his real name and of no one understanding our sport. It’s the story of having eight girls who deserve to run at regionals but only being allowed to run with seven. A story of hard decisions and mental fortitude and stubbornness.

The story of how we qualified for states is long and complex and rich with both incredible happiness and overwhelming pain. It’s a story that I could go on about for pages and pages, but a story that I’ll have to cut short here. A story that I’ll have to conclude with the simple statement that I’ll be running one last time with these girls next Saturday, November 7th, at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan. That’ll be the true conclusion of the story. I’ll understand if you’re not there to watch. Cross country, after all, is almost as hard to watch as it is to compete in. But the girls who fought through the mud and the cold and the wind to get to MIS would appreciate your thoughts on that day around 2 p.m.

Perhaps not surprisingly, it’s supposed to be cold and overcast on Saturday.

The perfect weather for stories of victory.