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The “Orange Crush”
December 6, 2022
On November fourth the Clayton girls’ cross country team stood on the starting line of the MSHSAA Class Four State Championship. The wind whipped down the starting line as the top-ranked girls’ team faced the first section of the course at Gans Creek in Columbia.
Three years ago a state qualification was a distant dream for the cross-country team. Last year, after an influx of dedicated underclassmen and strong leadership from upperclassmen, the team finished seventh overall in the state meet.
“Every year my first goal is that my athletes have a positive experience. My second goal this year was to improve on our seventh-place finish in 2021 at the state meet,” said Head Coach James Crowe in regard to the team culture he was aiming to build this year.
Crowe organized workouts throughout the season in which the girls worked together in packs to hit certain times. The packs mimicked how the girls’ team wanted to race, in a bonded group pushing each other for one goal, to win as a team.
“No single workout or run by itself will make the difference, it has to be combined all together. It’s like baking a cake. All of the ingredients are important,” said Crowe. It’s like baking a cake. All of the ingredients are important.” — James Crowe
It’s like baking a cake. All of the ingredients are important.”
— James Crowe
Every girl on the team showed up to practice, driven and determined, following Crowe’s cake philosophy and making each ingredient count.
Bonding outside of practice and races was equally vital to the team’s success on the course.
“That [team success] was helped by how involved our captains were,” said Analee Miller, a sophomore and runner on the state team. “They really put a lot of effort into the team to make sure that it was a good team and environment.”
The senior captains, Sophia Pelligreen and Isabel Erdmann helped organize events like pasta dinners and Starbucks trips to help cultivate a strong team atmosphere.
“Every girl from the slowest to the fastest runners pulled for each other and bonded together as a team,” said Crowe.
The tight team bond was reflected by numerous top team finishes in early season meets. At the Suburban Conference meet the girls had a dazzling performance full of personal-best times and finished second only to Lafayette.
The conference meet kickstarted the beginning of the historic championship season. The girls’ team was stacking up to be one of the best in the state with four girls breaking the daunting twenty-minute barrier proving the team’s depth.
The Clayton girls proved they were no longer the underdog from last year with a dominating performance in the district meet, earning themselves the name “Orange Crush” from coaches watching the meet. The team secured the district team title and individual title with Sophia Pelligreen’s first-place finish.
“After districts, when everyone had crossed the finish line and we were all looking at like the results and were like ‘Oh my gosh we won!’” said Miller, describing the team celebration after the victorious district meet.
A week following the district victory the girls’ team sat at Olive Garden waiting for their last pre-race pasta dinner before the state meet. The group celebrated the season’s success while preparing to run for something bigger than themselves the next day.
“You’re nervous but also you’re like this is so cool that I can run this course and it’s an amazing opportunity,” said Miller describing the team’s emotions before the race. You’re nervous but also you’re like this is so cool that I can run this course and it’s an amazing opportunity.” — Analee Miller
You’re nervous but also you’re like this is so cool that I can run this course and it’s an amazing opportunity.”
— Analee Miller
After battling wind, heat, and tough competition for three points one mile, the girls’ team crossed the state finish line to a third-place team trophy. The podium finish is the first in school history for girls’ cross country.
Topping off the day were four All-State (top-25) runners, Sophia Pelligreen (6th), Isabel Erdmann (17th), Lauren Van Rhein (20th), and Anna McAndrew (22nd).
“I was elated and proud of the girls for their strong races under less than ideal running conditions,” said Crowe when asked about the girls’ performance in the state meet.
Aside for the two captains, the varsity team was built of freshmen and sophomores making the future bright for Clayton girls’ cross country.
“Making sure everyone continues to improve and get faster and continuing the team atmosphere to continue the legacy of what has already been established [next year],” said Miller on future goals for the team.
The girls’ cross country team has proven that the key to historic success in cross country is a one-of-a-kind bond on and off the course.