THE BLADE/LORI KING Enlarge | Buy This Photo
NAPOLEON -- The members of the Napoleon girls cross country team believe if they put in the miles it should lead to smiles and a spot on the podium at the state meet in November.
A rigorous workout regime -- one that includes nearly 70 miles of running per week -- helped the Wildcats place fourth at the Division II state race last season.
Four runners return from that group with the ambition of matching the state title captured by Napoleon's girls team in 2003.
Wildcats coach Randy Burke has been at the helm since 1988 and designed the program's aggressive training program.
"We have a lot of girls that are dedicated and have the desire to put in the time commitment," Burke said. "You have to put in the miles and believe in yourself and be an aggressive runner. They all get along and they are cohesive and competitive. The more success they have, the more they believe and the harder they work."
Sophomore Maddie Grooms returns after pacing Napoleon with a 22nd-place finish at state last year with a time of 19 minutes, 19.73 seconds.
"It's pretty tiring every morning to get up at 6 and run and then run again in the afternoon," Grooms said. "We run about 10 miles a day about six days a week. Sometimes we put in a good 70 miles each week. But we know it will pay off."
Grooms earned All-Ohio honors after placing 11th at state among the runners on teams that qualified.
Joining Grooms in the daily grind are juniors Alexa Sonnenberg and Hannah Westhoven, and sophomore Sarah Waisner.
Sonnenberg placed 68th (20:15.73) at state while Westhoven (20:40.88) and Waisner (21:05.74) also earned points for Napoleon.
Perhaps the wild card for the Wildcats is the addition of senior Amber Robison, who opted to run cross country this fall after playing the libero position for the volleyball team her first three years. Robison was a regional qualifier in the 800 meters in track last spring.
"We have four good girls back that are young but have good experience," Burke said. "So we already thought we could be just as strong. But with Amber in there we are even stronger. She's very dedicated and positive and will fit right in."
In fact, Robison paced the Wildcats in a first-place team finish Saturday at the Defiance Early Bird Open. Robison took second individually (20:42.69) as Napoleon had six runners among the top 10 placers at the meet. Grooms was fourth (21:29.66), Sonnenberg took fifth (21:39.09), and Waisner sixth (21:59.41).
"I really wasn't expecting to get second," Robison said. "I was just hoping to place in the top finishers. I knew I was joining a pretty good team. They help push me in practice. So I just need to keep running hard and dropping my times."
Burke said he was not surprised with the early-season performances from Robison and all of his runners. He said they worked hard together in the summer and were prepared for two-a-days when the season began.
The sessions include time in the pool. The girls run about three to five miles at 6:30 a.m., and also swim three days a week.
"We do water runs," Grooms said. "We do sets of one- to two-minute water runs. We run in the shallow end to work on our form. It helps the legs relax and helps the muscles. It helps us run faster."
They also swim warm-up laps.
"Then we do water runs where it's running without the impact," Robison said. "It's like treading water except you're moving your body like you are running. It gets your heart rate up."
Grooms said Burke also has implemented a new running drill this season.
"We're doing a lot more speed workouts and doing hill loops every day," she said. "We run up and down a hill which helps us with our form to keep our knees high. They're pretty hard. But it will all help us in the end."
The team members all saw first-hand exactly what the rewards of such exhaustive workouts can be after witnessing Steve Weaver win the school's first individual title in the sport last season. He also won a state title in the 1600 meters as a junior, and is now competing at Ohio State.
"I think Steve's dedication showed what can be done if you put your time in," Burke said.
Robison said she would often see Weaver run by her house.
"And my house is way out of town," Robison said. "You'd see him running all over town. He had a lot of talent but he was an extremely hard worker. To see that does help drive you."
Grooms said she wants to help carry on the tradition.
"He is an inspiration for all of us," Grooms said. "He makes us want to run faster."
Burke said he can see similarities in these current runners to his 2003 state title team. Burke, who also coaches the Napoleon boys, led the girls to a runner-up finish in 2000. The Wildcat boys won the state title the same year.
"They could be similar with the experience we have," Burke said. "Overall these girls have the capability of running faster than those girls."
Grooms set her personal record of 19:19 at the state meet last November and believes many of her teammates can establish personal records at the season-ending race.
"That would be amazing to get up on the podium at state," Grooms said. "We know we have the potential to do it if we keep working hard and if we don't hold anything back."
Burke said five of his runners must get their times under 20:30 to reach that goal. He said the first major measuring stick will be Sept. 8 at the prestigious Tiffin Carnival.
But the ultimate goal is to defend the team's D-II district title and then capture a regional championship after placing second last season.
"This team has the potential if they come together, keep working hard and stay injury free to win a state title," Burke said.
Contact Mark Monroe at: email@example.com, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.