DELPHOS — When Steve Hellman took over the Delphos St. John’s cross country program 10 years ago, he did not envision his girls or boys teams qualifying for the state meet in the very near future.
In fact, early on, just fielding a full team was one of Hellman’s main goals.
Fast forward 10 years – the St. John’s girls cross country team will compete at the state meet in Division III for the first time in school history Saturday at National Trail Raceway in Hebron.
At last Saturday’s Tiffin D-III regional, the St. John’s girls squad finished seventh and nabbed the final qualifying spot for the state meet. The Blue Jays finished seven points ahead of St. Henry, which placed eighth.
“I took the job, because I was afraid they might cancel the program,” Hellman said about his first year of coaching. “We had five kids returning that year, between junior high and high school. I ended up taking those five and got two more out between junior and high school, in my first year of coaching. Really, I was only going to do this (coach) for four years, while my boy was running cross country. I enjoyed the sport so much, that I had a hard time giving it up. I’ve had some individual success. Now, I’m starting to get the team success.”
At last Saturday’s regional meet, Kambrynn Rohr led St. John’s with a 46th place overall finish in a time of 20 minutes, 44.6 seconds, in a field of 182 runners on the 5,000-meter course. Teammate Catherine Kopack wasn’t far behind in 52nd (20:50.9). The rest of St. John’s pack included Jenia Freewalt (63rd, 21:05.9), Rylee Pohlman (83rd, 21:28.7), Adara Fuerst (139rd, 22:38.3) and Abby Shafer (161st, 23:26.5).
Last season, the top eight teams at the Tiffin regional qualified for the state meet. St. John’s finished 12th.
“We were close, and we knew we worked really hard for it,” Rohr, a junior, said about last season. “But we knew that we weren’t there yet. This year, we worked really hard for it, and we finally did it.
“We’re just going to go down (to the state meet), experience it all and take it all in. We just want to have fun and do our best.”
Freewalt, the lone senior on the roster, pointed to last year’s success as the motivation for this season.
“Last year, after finishing 12th, we were kind of talking about it, saying that we’re going to be really good next year and we’re going to make it (to state). … And we made it,” Freewalt said.
Each team in the postseason tournament is permitted to have up to seven runners compete in a race. However, this season, St. John’s had a total of six girls on the squad. The top five runners on each team score in a race.
“I wish I had 10 (runners),” Hellman said with a smile. “At six, we had to be very careful with mileage and training. We knew we didn’t have the depth. If we lost a person, we were going to be in trouble.
“So, we kept everybody healthy. That was the key this year. We didn’t have anyone miss any meets. So, I think we’re very fresh going in. We’ve had four strong Saturdays in a row. We’ve ran really strong. At the MAC (Midwest Athletic Conference) meet and districts, we had our best finishes in 20 years. The girls get along really well. They really run as a unit,” he said.
At this year’s MAC Championships, St. John’s finished a distant second to state-power Minster. At districts, once again, St. John’s placed second to Minster.
Hellman said he saw the potential in this team.
“We definitely saw it coming,” he said. “I have one senior and two juniors, so we do have a little experience. All six of these girls were on the regional team, last year. So, we saw it coming. We weren’t sure if we could quite get there, but we were able to do it this year.”
Hellman said the St. John’s cross country program has enjoyed some success in the past. The St. John’s boys program made it to the state meet in 1986 and 1990.
“This is the first time for the girls program (to qualify for the state meet). The boys had one team in the ‘80s and one in the ‘90s,” Hellman said. “This was the 10th team to make it to regionals, but the first team to go to state. We’ve had five different individuals run at state, but never a girls team. It’s only my fifth year out of the 10 years (of being the head coach), that we’ve had a full girls team. So, we’ve come a long way.”
This year’s St. John’s boys team had four runners.
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