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As the Northview girls cross country team traverses the winding, hilly terrains this fall, the team members know a rare feat is within reach at the end of the path.
Of the seven Wildcat runners, at least five have the potential to run the 5,000-meter courses in under 20 minutes and two are capable of breaking 19 minutes.
"With that combination you have an opportunity in front of you to do well in championship races," Northview coach Jodie Smith said.
Northview finished 12th as a team in the Division I state meet last season and breaking into the top five is a goal this season.
Smith, who is in her second year, has all seven runners back that earned points at the state meet.
"I've made the team aware that this year they will have an opportunity that they will never have again because of the combination of runners we have," Smith said. "We have the kids who are capable of running the times needed to place at state. We have the talent on the team to do that. They have to make the choice to go after what is possible. All the stars have to align for that to happen."
The Wildcats are ranked 10th in the Division I state coaches poll.
Junior Abby Masters finished 15th individually at the state meet last year, posting a time of 18:28.4.
"We have a lot of people that have the potential to be super fast," Masters said. "We have a lot of people that can be right up there."
Three other Wildcats finished among the top 100 runners in the state meet.
Senior Moe Dean came in 60th with a time of 19:14.1 Senior Alison Work clocked in at 19:26.3 to finish 79th, while junior Janelle Noe placed 100th in 19:43.1.
Two sophomores, Laura Judge and Rachel Audet, earned points at the state meet as freshmen last fall, as well as junior Robin Foster.
The team's signature performance this season came Sept. 10 at the prestigious Tiffin Carnival meet. The Wildcats competed in the highest division at the meet that included teams from 315 high schools and over 4,500 athletes.
The Northview runners acquitted themselves nicely among the elite contingent in the Division I-A meet. The Wildcats finished second behind Brunswick, the No. 1-ranked team in the state.
"We know we can go really far in [highly competitive] races," Masters said. "We want to see how well we can do against those other teams. We have our whole team there to push each other to do better."
Three Wildcats placed in the top 25 at the Tiffin Carnival led by Work, who placed fourth (18:42.49). Masters was 16th (19:26.6) and Dean was 23rd (19:35.64).
"It wasn't a surprise for us," Smith said. "We have the caliber where we should be finishing that high."
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The Wildcats opened the season with a third-place finish at the Hot Summer Bash in Hilliard, Ohio. Work won the individual title.
Last weekend Northview finished 10th out of 33 teams at the Culver Academy Invitational in Indiana. Work was 12th at the highly competitive meet.
Smith said she puts the toughest meets on her schedule to prepare her team.
"I want to expose them to the more elite races," Smith said. "They will not always win. But they get the idea this is where they can run and that they belong."
The Wildcats are seeking a fourth straight Northern Lakes League title and have won every league dual meet this season which is at the midway point.
Smith, who coached at McCord Junior High before taking over at Northview, has coached nearly every member of the team.
"It's been a nice transition," Smith said. "They know what to expect from me. They are familiar with the terminology. They trust you as a coach"
Masters was coached by Smith in junior high.
"She is really dedicated and knows every person and how to push them," Masters said.
The runners also have developed a tight bond over the years.
"They tend to do a lot of things together outside of practice," Smith said. "They are a close group. It helps to know your team will be there to support you."
The teammates offer advice to each other and pick each other up after disappointing races, according to the coach.
"I know running with my friends makes me want to do better and I want to help them do better," Masters said. "We run for each other. Not just ourselves."
However, Smith said they also are "a very competitive squad."
"You have to have a balance, between that competitiveness and closeness," she said.
Masters said the team's goal is to finish among the top five at the state meet.
"Everyone has to have a great race. We have a lot of people that can be right up there," Masters said.
Contact Mark Monroe at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade