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Notre Dame cross country coach Becky Mincheffprefers the word progress over peak.
The Eagles are ranked eighth in the Division I state coaches poll and are progressing nicely as they enter Saturday's regional meet.
“When you say peak I think the girls are always afraid to run too fast too soon,” Mincheff said. “I think that limits them and holds them back. They might think they don't have to try really hard until the end of the season. So I don't like that. You progress and as you progress your times need to come down.”
Notre Dame seemed to be progressing well last year when the team claimed the first regional championship in school history. But the Eagles then had a disappointing 15th place finish out of 16 teams at the state meet. Mincheff said the times were up almost a minute for every runner.
Notre Dame finished second at the D-I district meet last weekend. Sophomore Lexi Aughenbaugh took second individually (18:59.3). The Eagles had six runners among the top 12. Senior Liz Lemon placed fifth (19:29.5), while junior Lauren Duncan (19:31.8) took sixth.
Aughenbaugh, who finished 50th at the state meet last season (19:42), did use the word peak when describing the team's current status.
“[Last year's finish] is definitely motivation,” Aughenbaugh said. “We were disappointed to go home knowing that was our last race. I think we'll do better this year because we're faster as a team and we're peaking at the right time. I think this team is destined for greatness.”
The Eagles had failed to qualify for state as a team the previous two years.
“It seemed like their goals was just to get to state,” Mincheff said. “I said,‘Ladies, the goal isn't just to get there. You have to perform once you get there.' They have to dig a little deeper over the next two races. I'm hoping their best times are yet to come. And I'm very confident with that. They're all strong and there are no aches and pains.”
The Eagles have won the district title six out of the last eight seasons. Duncan (20:23) and senior Ellen Guisfredi (20:35) also scored points at the state meet.
“Now we have the experience and we're ready to do better,” Lemon said. “We've all come together and we run as hard as we can.”
Guisfredi said the team kind of “fizzled out at the end” of last season.
“But we're more consistent now,” she said.
The team matched a record Notre Dame had set in 2004 for the most points in the City League meet (19). The Eagles' took first (Aughenbaugh), second (Lemon), fourth (Duncan), fifth (freshman LindseyMyers) and seventh (freshman Sarah Mallow) to capture their eighth consecutive title. Aughenbaugh said the runners were excited when they found out they had broken the old record for consecutive CL girls crowns set by Central Catholic (1985-1991).
“It feels so great. I loved it when I read in the paper that we set a record,” Aughenbaugh said.
Juniors Lauren Coombs and Jordan Conrad also have helped the Eagles continue their legacy.
“There was some pressure to keep the streak going,” Guisfredi said. “I kneweveryone would give it their all. The senior class wanted to win it all four years.”
Those seniors also have developed a rivalry with Northview, which is ranked fifth in the poll. The Wildcats won the district race by 11 points over the Eagles.
“It's been close like that all year,” Mincheff said. “They've edged us four times this season. We beat them every time we faced them last year during the season. But then they finished ahead of us at state [10th]. Who knows maybe the roles will be reversed.
“But it's really not an us against them thing. For two teams from this area to go [to state] would be great. We're competitive and they're competitive. We are battling it out. But I don't plot my season against them.”
The Eagles advanced to the regional at the Pickerington site. Traditionally, ND has gone to the regional in Tiffin. While the Eagles will go up against Northview again, Mincheff said it gives her runners a better chance to advance as a team. The top four teams advance to state.
“It was our choice to go to Pickerington. I figured if we had an off day we could still do better at Pickerington,” she said.
Mincheff, who has been running for 27 years, graduated from Lake. She served as an assistant coach at St. Ursula for two years before taking over the head position at Notre Dame in 2000.
Mincheff also runs with her team during practice.
“I pace them,” she said. “If I'm not out there how do I know their weak spots or how their form is? If I see them fall back, I know there is a foundation missing. I get to see what I'm working with. You really get to know the girls. If I'm not out there, I'd feel like I'm not part of it. During race day, it's their day. We see how far all of that work got us.”
Lemon said it's been “amazing” to be a part of the program.
“It's helpful because she encourages us,”Lemon said. “It gives us more ability to run where we should be running.”
Guisfredi also said she likes to have her coach along.
“She helps us while we are running, tells us if our form is off and encourages us to go even faster. It's better than her just sitting there timing us.”
Mincheff said during races she tells her runners if they pass a teammate, “you bring them along with you.”
“The faster you go, the faster everyone goes,” she said.
Aughenbaugh's fastest time this year is 18:44.
“I know she's eyeing the school record of 18:23,” Mincheff said.
But she said the statewide competition is extremely stiff this year. She said she is hoping for a top-five finish as a team at state.
“This is one of the best teams I've had. But I like to be realistic,” Mincheff said.
Contact Mark Monroe at:firstname.lastname@example.org 419-724-6354.