Girls’ Cross Country Propelled by Pack Running

Entering the Class 4A state competition, hosted by Hereford High on Nov. 9, the Hawks knew the closer they could stay together on the difficult course—allowing as few runners as possible to sneak in between them—the better they’d finish as a team. Urbana executed its plan as well as Coach CJ Ecalono said he could’ve asked for, as all five of the Hawks’ scorers—senior Sara Jarman (28th place), sophomore Lula Masters (40th), freshman Ivy Coldren (42nd), sophomore Karly McDonnell (44th) and sophomore Lyna Beraich (53rd)—finished within 37.5 seconds of each other.

In high school cross country, each team lines up with seven runners and the top five finishers’ results count toward team totals. Their places are added up, with the lowest score winning the competition.

Therefore, a team’s fifth, sixth and seventh runners are just as important to the team’s overall performance as its top runner. Urbana’s strong pack running, something it had been working on with tempo training throughout the season, led the Hawks to an eighth-place finish at states, their best result since finishing third in the 2014 Class 3A race.

“We were definitely excited about finishing in the top 10 and really excited about how we ran as a team, with our pack running,” Ecalono said. “You of course want to be in that (individual) top 25 and get a medal, but if you were to tell me (before the race) that the girls would’ve run that fast and still get those places, I’d tell you that you were wrong. Once the girls looked back at their individual times, they were more pleased with their time than where they finished.”

Urbana finished in a combined time of 1 hour, 42 minutes and 55.47 seconds, nearly five minutes faster than last year’s performance. The Hawks’ top five also broke 21 minutes for the first time in program history, finishing the notoriously challenging Hereford course in an average time of 20:35.10—less than a minute behind state champion Howard (19:45.53).

“This team really is a family; the dynamic of the team is probably the best I’ve ever had,” Ecalono said. “From the very beginning of the season, we’ve talked about being unselfish runners. It doesn’t matter whether you’re No. 1, No. 7 or No. 44. We’re going to go out there, do our best and help the team no matter who you are or where you finish.”

Though Jarman will leave behind big shoes to fill, Urbana cross country’s future is bright, Ecalono said, with six of its top seven slated to return next fall.

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