Perham XC girls ready to take on wide-open state field
The Perham girls cross country team is representative of a tale of two seasons and being a part of two lauded teams who have come together to make one confident group.
Namely, running with the boys' team, which has been the benefactor of heaps of praise and recognition.
The girls, however, have found success running under the radar and have calmly continued to improve to little fanfare from even the state polls, a place where the team has been for a decade.
The Perham girls entered preseason in the Class A top ten, dropped out in mid-season, and regained their standing ranked No. 9 in the final regular season poll.
All the while, continuing nine straight years of conference domination and regaining a section championship they let slip last year, finishing runners-up in 2011.
The section championship assured the girls' team of an appearance at state for the 10th consecutive year.
A coaching perspective from the beginning of the season to present is enough to tell the girls story.
"It was a lot of fun to watch the girls compete with confidence and mental toughness," Head Coach Jeff Morris said after the first meet of the year in Moorhead.
Retaining a constant state of confidence, in light of state polls, personal expectations and the lauded history of the program, can ebb and flow during a season.
By late September, the girls were in the midst of that mental battle.
Midseason after the Milaca Mega Meet, Morris said, "Our girls finished a little disappointed and upset at the end of a race about knowing they can be mixing it up a little further up front."
As the regular season wound down, that is exactly what the team did.
"You can just see the girls ready to make the jump in their performances and today was an indication of that," was the comment from Morris after the final regular season meet heading into the post-season.
Conference champions, check. Section champions, check.
At Saturday's state meet, the team will have their finishing place in their own hands, or feet, so to speak.
In an interview with LakesAreaSports.com's John George, the team's vocal leader, senior Ciarrin Covington said, "We're going to have to really want it."
Individually, this includes trying to knock off defending champion Clare Flanagan, a junior from The Blake School of Minneapolis and her team.
Last year's runners-up, Annandale, return to try to take an undefended team title, as St. Cloud Cathedral finished third in their section, negating a trip to St. Olaf to defend their 2011 championship.
Unlike the boys' race, which is likely a two-team affair, the girls will have every opportunity to put together their best race of the season and make a run for the podium.
In the past decade, the state title has eluded the girls' team.
The Yellowjacket girls' best state finishes were back-to-back runners-up marks in 2008 and 2009.
Both teams finished 10 points or less behind the eventual champions Adrian and Waseca.
Both schools will join Perham Saturday in a race that has no obvious favorite.
This could be the year that the 2012 Yellowjackets avenge their 2008-09 teammates, and in a few cases, themselves, and pull a mild upset in the minds of everyone but the girls on the team and bring back to Perham a state championship.
Much of the motivation to improve on last season's 10th place finish will fall on the family Covington.
Senior Ciarrin will provide the leadership within the team from being on those two runners-up Perham teams.
Her sister, Brynnan, an eighth-grader, holds the task of pacing the team on the course, as she has all season. Eighth-graders have a history at state for Perham and involve multiple state participants from this year's team.
Ciarrin was an eighth-grader when she finished 52nd in 2008 and sixth on a team full of upperclassmen.
Lizzie Fudge and Racole Karels were both eighth-graders in 2009 finishing 27th and 29th respectively at state.
Sydney Karels was an eighth-grader last season and placed second on the team, in 34th place behind senior Cassie Beseman.
With such a young race leader in Brynnan Covington, and seasoned underclassmen with so much state experience, to say the near future is bright for the girls' team is as big of an understatement as can be made about Saturday's final meet.
Which seems fitting, given the teams' ability to ward off doubt this season and head into the state meet with all the confidence in the world.
Unlike the boys' team that has a big target on their collective backs and numerous rankings to defend, the girls' team has one thing to defend, their own pride and expectations.
They don't have to live up to anything and can enter the meet with only self-created pressure, at worst.
This scenario creates much in the realm of possibility and anything can happen once the gun goes off.
The bright future of the girls' team will come to fruition precisely at 11 a.m., on Saturday, when the lead ATV takes off, the starting gun fires, the crowd roars, and not one person in that crowd has any idea which of the 16 teams is going to be holding the state championship trophy an hour later.