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A bittersweet finish

Tiger girls place sixth as a team, Vogel takes fifth

Vogel 1105

ABOVE: West Liberty-Salem’s Meghan Vogel nears the finish line during the girls Division III state meet at National Trail Raceway in Hebron. Vogel finished fifth as an individual and helped lead the Tigers to a sixth-place finish. FRONT PAGE PHOTO:  The West Liberty-Salem’s girls cross country team hugs after finishing their race Saturday at the Division III state meet in Hebron. It was the fourth and final appearance for the Tigers’ senior runners. (EXAMINER PHOTOS | AARON LaBATT)

HEBRON — They ran with all of their hearts, and to them that was all that mattered.

There were some tears mixed with smiles here Saturday at the Division III state cross country meet as West Liberty-Salem’s outstanding group of seniors closed the door on an amazing prep career.

The Tigers came away with a sixth-place finish at National Trail Raceway, marking their fourth consecutive state appearance. It was the most successful stretch in girls cross country history for WL-Salem.

“We gave our hearts out there and ran as hard as we could,” said junior Alyssa Strickland. “That’s all we could do.”

WL-Salem’s seniors finished fifth as freshman, fourth as sophomores and third last season as juniors.

“It really was a bittersweet feeling out there after the race,” said senior Meghan Vogel. “(The seniors) will be going our separate ways next year and may not see each other a lot. It’s been so much fun being together with our team. I wouldn’t trade any of our finishes to be on another team that won a state championship. It’s really sad and hard, but I don’t think anyone has been on a journey like we have.”

Liberty Center won the girls Division III state championship with 101 points, while Coldwater was runner-up with 116 points and Gilmour Academy was third with 123 points.

Russia edged Minster 145-146 to take fourth, while WL-Salem was sixth with 158 points.

“I think it really could have been anyone’s race,” said WL-Salem girls head coach Ann Vogel. “The teams that came out on top had front runners. That is what Minster and Gilmour Academy didn’t have. Having a great pack will only get you so far and having a front runner is important to getting on the podium.”

The girls Division III race was one of the toughest of the entire state cross country meet. By comparison, WL-Salem’s average race time was 19:51 last season when it placed third. On Saturday, the Tigers’ average race time was 19:43, which only placed them sixth. They would have placed third in the Division II race.

“It was a fast race,” said Ann Vogel. “It went out hard and I was proud that the girls stuck to the game plan and didn’t go out fast. Everyone ran personal bests at the state meet and that is hard to do. I’m extremely proud of them for doing that. I know they gave it everything they had and that if they had to go down they would go down swinging. That’s what they did.

“To end your career knowing you ran the best race you could possibly run is all you can ask for. These girls have been such an inspiration to our community. They are good kids who also excel in the classroom and are outstanding citizens. They’ve represented our community so well. I couldn’t be prouder and have been blessed to have been with them for the past six years.”

Meghan Vogel improved on her finish from last year’s state cross country meet by placing fifth. She finished sixth last fall, but Saturday set a new career-best time of 18:24.76 and earned all-Ohio honors for the second straight year.

The senior standout, who won an individual state title in the 1,600 in track last spring, was near the front of the pack the entire race. Vogel was in the top five and pushed into third at one point during the race.

“I was excited about my race and was pretty happy about my finish,” said Meghan Vogel. “I ran the best I have all season. Division III is known for being super tough and this race was a testament to that. There were so many good runners out there. We’re all kind of friends, so it’s fun to run with them.”

Vogel was seeded eighth based on times.

“We were really excited for Meghan to get fifth,” said Ann Vogel. “She improved her time by over 30 seconds from last year and that says a lot about her improvement over the year. She bought into her training year round and really worked to improve and take that next step. Not a lot of kids are willing to make the sacrifices like that with things like managing your time and diet.”

In addition to Vogel, the Tigers had strong races from their top runners and had three other girls finish in the top 50 on Saturday.

Junior Alyssa Strickland continued to impress with another strong finish as she took 30 seconds off her time. She worked her way toward the front of the pack to finish in 30th with a time of 19:20.6.

“Alyssa ran an amazing race,” said Ann Vogel. “She has really come on as a runner this year and has never had a bad state meet for us. She steps it up every year and still has another year left to run. Alyssa is already setting goals for next season and we’re looking forward to that.”

Senior Shawnda Henault was 42nd (19:37.2) and senior Jasmine Smith was 43rd (19:37.5).
Also racing for the Tigers on Saturday were seniors Savanna Shipp in 116th (21:35.54), Jordan Smith in 131st (22:33.0) and Sarah Williams in 140th (23:59.7).

 “I can’t say enough about what Shawnda and Jasmine have done for this program,” said Ann Vogel. “They are great teammates and so supportive of everyone. They are best friends and it was heart warming to get to see them finish nearly side-by-side at the finish.

“Savanna has a heart of a champion. She stuck it out year after year and always got better. We could count on her to do what the team needed and I’m so proud of her and how she did for us.”

After three previous races at the state meet the Tigers had no regrets about their race on Saturday.

“It felt like just another run once we got out there,” said Jasmine Smith. “It was tough, though, knowing it was our last run. I gave it my all and know everyone else on the team did, too.”

“We all felt really good out there,” said Williams. “We’ve been looking forward to this and we ran with confidence.”

As the Big Orange girls caught their breath after the race, they had to fight back tears as the seniors came to the realization that their prep careers were over.

“There were definitely some mixed emotions,” said Meghan Vogel. “We ran the best race on the best day of the season and you can’t complain about that part of it. The emotions we had after the race came from the fact that it’s all over now. We’ve been on this journey and it was sad knowing that was the last time we were at the state meet together.”

“It’s hard to be upset with today and that this is all ending when we’ve been part of such a successful team,” said Henault. “I wouldn’t want to have any other teammates than the ones I’m with right here.”

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