Archive for Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Firebirds happy ahead of the pack

Free State High girls off to a blazing start to 2008 season

Sticking together has the been key for the Free State High cross country team this season. In this photo, taken in the later stages of last Saturday's race in Baldwin, are (from left to right) Hailey Donley, Amy Meyers, Lynn Robinson, Morgan Flannigan and Hayley Francis.

Sticking together has the been key for the Free State High cross country team this season. In this photo, taken in the later stages of last Saturday's race in Baldwin, are (from left to right) Hailey Donley, Amy Meyers, Lynn Robinson, Morgan Flannigan and Hayley Francis.

September 24, 2008

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Free State High girls off to a blazing start

The Free State High girls' cross country team is off to a perfect start in 2008. Enlarge video

Although most of them were born 20 years after the song was released, the members of the Free State High girls cross country team recently found special meaning in the Bachman-Turner Overdrive hit "Takin' Care of Business."

Earlier this month, as the team traveled north to Omaha, Neb., for the Millard South Invitational, the song came blaring across the speakers in the van and the girls adopted the title as their motto as they rocked out to the song.

"Takin' care of business, every day. Takin' care of business, every way."

That pretty much sums up the start of the season for the FSHS girls, who have won all three meets they've entered and climbed their way to a No. 1 team ranking in Kansas and a No. 7 regional ranking according to the Heartland Team Rankings, which ranks the top squads from Kansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

"The girls have basically just been on fire," Free State coach Steve Heffernan said. "They're all so competitive that I know, when we get into a race, I'm going to get their best effort. They want to beat anybody and everybody."

That was the goal out of the chute, and it began this summer when the team - buoyed by the knowledge that the top four teams from last year's state meet each returned a full lineup - worked harder than ever. Although thrilled by the hot start and attention, the Firebirds hardly are satisfied.

"All of the recognition has been great, but we were just blown away by the regional ranking," said sophomore Hayley Francis, who finished 11th individually at state in 2007. "There's no big secret to what we're doing, we just go out and try to do our thing and run the best we can."

Through three races, the team's strategy has worked flawlessly. Top runner Kyra Kilwein goes out ahead of the group and typically finishes in the Top 5. There's no animosity for that.

"She kind of sets the tone for the rest of us," Francis said.

The other varsity runners - Francis, Hailey Donley, Haley Harrington, Morgan Flannigan, Hillary Yoder, Amy Meyers and Lynn Robinson - fight as hard as they can to stick together, passing other runners as a mean, green pack late in the race to rack up big-time points for the Firebirds.

At each meet, every Free State girl that entered the varsity race finished in the Top 21, most of them within a place or two of each other.

"I didn't realize how impressive they were as a pack until the final quarter of the race in Manhattan," Heffernan said. "After a few girls crossed the line, I looked around and said, 'Wow, that's all of us.' When all of your girls finish in the Top 21, you're going to win quite a few races."

Regardless of how they've started, the only race that matters to these girls is the one that comes at the end of the season.

It's those thoughts of the state meet, never far from their minds, that helps them keep perspective during the early string of success.

"The good start has given us a lot of confidence," Robinson said. "I wasn't expecting this during my first year. But we all know we have to keep training and can't slack off at all."

Next up for the Firebirds is this weekend's KU Invitational at Rim Rock.

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