Note: This sports recap appears in the Wednesday, Nov. 6 newspaper on Page B1.
HEBRON — It may not have been the finish aimed for, but the Vinton County girls cross country team were winners before the race began.
Although the Vikings finished 18th out of 20 qualifying Division II teams, Saturday’s state championship meet wasn’t just about crowning champions, it was about setting a standard for future Viking teams after qualifying for the state’s biggest stage for the first time in school history.
“This has been nearly a six-year process,” Vinton County coach Josh Kirkpatrick said. “These girls have ran together since their middle school state championship race. It’s been a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get to this point, but the level of commitment these girls have shown to get here is second to none. This day is a testament to the girls’ character.”
Senior Rylee Fee, who had spent the previous two years representing Vinton County as an individual qualifier, came across the finish line first for the Vikings, placing 56th out of the race’s 176 competitors with a 19:45.0 with junior Olivia Mayers was right behind her (19:46.2; 57th).
“This year was 10 times better because I had my teammates racing with me, instead of cheering from the crowd,” Fee said. “Being able to be around them and warm up with them. It’s really special that I was able to run my last race with them.”
Senior Lexie Walker’s 20:47.9 was good for 119th, and Emily Reynolds, a junior, completed the course in 21:23.1 (142nd). Seniors Abrianna McManis (22:01.6; 162nd), Olivia Wells (22:10.5; 164th) and Sydney Quackenbush (22:59.0; 168th) came in close together and completed the scoring for Vinton County.
Lexington repeated as Division II state champions, winning its fourth title in five years by placing three runners in the top 21 and scoring a scant 83 points, which easily out-distanced runner-up Granville’s 170.
As far as Fee’s race goes, comparisons between this year and last are difficult, owing to the waterlogged conditions of the 2018 course. However, last year’s race day conditions were picture-perfect, while 2019’s slate of runners had to deal with brisk, windy conditions. Still yet, Fee finished 30 seconds faster despite being six spots lower than a season ago.
But to hear her tell, there’s no doubt which day will be the most memorable.
“There’s so many moments that standout to me, but this is at the top of the list,” Fee said. “Winning the TVC my sophomore year when no one gave us a chance was definitely special as well. But nothing beats the state meet and having your teammates here racing with you. I think I ran a good race — as well as I could have, and the team did great. Everyone was able to finish the day, and the season, strong.”
Those five seniors: Fee, Walker, McManis, Wells and Quackenbush now depart from the program, but not before leaving a legacy that includes three TVC titles, two district championships and an appearance at the state level.
“They’ve set the bar incredibly high due to their work ethic and hopefully the kids coming up see that,” Kirkpatrick said. “They showed up every day and committed themselves to making it this far. Even on vacations, they made sure to run and show up to 6:00 a.m. morning runs. They’ve left a lasting impression that hopefully the younger kids see and build upon for the coming years.”