Members of the Fairbanks High School girls cross-country team celebrate their third-place finish during the Division III regional meet at Pickerington North High School. They are from left, Kadie Carstensen, Linsey Eddy, Amelia Cameron, Adeline Fitzwater, Kalor Greve, Kia Van Dyke and Gracie Hubbs. The Lady Panthers will compete in the state meet on Saturday at National Trail Raceway near Hebron. (Photo submitted)
The Fairbanks High School girls cross-country squad has put in a great deal of work since the summer months.
Whether it’s been competing in blistering hot weather or cool, rainy conditions, the Lady Panthers have not taken their eyes off their ultimate prize.
They will see the conclusion of that top goal Saturday morning (11 a.m.) when they line up for the start of the Division III state race.
The event will be held at National Trail Raceway near Hebron.
“We’ve got a bunch of juniors and seniors who have battled together for several years,” said FHS head coach Mike Van Winkle. “It’s been four years for our seniors.”
The Lady Panthers qualified for the state meet with a third-place finish during last weekend’s regional competition at Pickerington North High School.
It was the first time FHS’ girls had ever competed in the regional meet. This will also be the Lady Panthers’ first tour of the state course.
“We’ve got a lot of seniors for whom this is going to be their final cross-country race,” said Van Winkle.
Four-year runners include Adeline Fitzwater, Kalor Greve, Kaidie Carstensen, Gracie Hubbs and Kai Van Dyke.
“When you realize this is going to be your final race, it gives you a lot of spark,” said Van Winkle. “I think our seniors are going to put it all out there on the course.”
Van Winkle felt earlier in the summer that this year’s team could qualify for the state meet.
As talented as the Lady Panthers were, however, they received additional good news over the summer.
“I remember that Mrs. (high school secretary Melanie) Reed called me and told me that Amelia (Cameron) had transferred to our school,” he said. “The name was familiar to me, so I looked up what she had done earlier in her career and I said ‘Wow.’”
Cameron, who has been a resident of the Fairbanks district for many years, had previously attended Patriot Academy in Powell. The junior was a cross-country and track standout there before the school closed during the summer.
“I called the other girls and told them Amelia was going to be joining us,” said Van Winkle.
Some coaches might have worried that a new roster addition such as Cameron might upset a team’s chemistry.
It could have been a big worry, especially since Cameron broke Fitzwater’s school record of 20:29 with the first sub-20 minute clocking in girls school history.
Cameron achieved that feat with a 19:43 during one of the earliest meets of the season.
Team chemistry was a work in progress, according to Van Winkle.
“We battled some injuries earlier in the season and didn’t have our seven-girl lineup (including junior Lindsey Eddy) until the Ohio Heritage Conference meet,” said the coach. “As a result, we had to be a little patient as far as developing that team chemistry.”
Van Winkle said everything has gone very smoothly since the full lineup has been in place.
The Panther coach doesn’t have any illusions of a super-high team finish during Saturday’s race.
“Minster has been the dominant force in Division III for a number of years and West Liberty-Salem will also be up there,” said Van Winkle. “Fort Loramie and Liberty Center are also very strong.”
The coach did say he’d like to see a handful of his runners finish in the top 20 and earn a trip to the awards podium.
Anyone who does will be honored as All-Ohio runners.
“That would be good for Amelia, Adeline and Kalor,” said Van Winkle.
“I’d also like to see all of our runners place in the top 50 (of approximately 170 athletes).”
Most of all, Van Winkle wants the Lady Panthers to enjoy what they’ve accomplished.
“Saturday will be the time to go out, run as well as you can and hopefully set new personal records,” he said.
“I want the girls to embrace the moment and enjoy it.”
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