By Jake Thompson
— After a lengthy time away from the cross country finals, the Avon girls’ cross country team has made the arduous return journey to the state finals now in back-to-back seasons. The Orioles had not made the finals as a team since 2000, until a determined season last year began to turn things around.
Led by a strong senior class with a few standout underclassmen, Avon placed 13th. And while the Orioles are certainly honored to return to the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course in Terre Haute today, Avon has larger aspirations in their mind.
“As a team they set the goal of being a top five finisher at state this season,” Avon coach Brad Rosebrock said. “But after some injuries, I think it’s realistic to say we would really like to improve on our finish of last season and we are shooting for somewhere in the top 10.”
Senior runners Victoria Collins and Mikala Hillis both went down with injuries, leaving some gaps to fill. Hillis was Avon’s top finisher at state last season.
Returning from that state squad from last year is sophomore sensation Malyka Abramson, Courtney Kerr, Kelsie Mothersead and Megan Price.
Abramson has led the Orioles all season and set a blistering pace in the postseason with wins at sectional, regional and semistate. In what is possibly the toughest semistate in Indiana at Carmel, Abramson blew past the competition, finishing over 18 seconds ahead of second place.
While Abramson has run extremely well, the competition at the state finals is stiff near the top.
“What Malyka has done is pretty amazing,” Rosebrock said. “Obviously, she is running really well. I really think if you go off of times, she is definitely a top five runner. I know she has aspirations of not finishing in the top 15 or top 10 and she is definitely gunning for a top five, if not third spot.
“I absolutely do not want to disrespect Ashley Erba from Warsaw or Anna Rohrer of Mishawaka who have traded the state record back and forth this season. I do not want it to sound like I do not have belief in (Abramson), but it will take the race of her life to really compete with Erba and Rohrer. Those two are running great on the national level.”
Abramson shattered Lorna Whaley’s Avon school record of 18:18, finishing in 17:51 this season. Whaley placed sixth at state her junior season and third her senior year.
Going out for the Orioles today are Abramson, Kerr, Mothersead, and Price along with senior Hannah Jennings, sophomore Lauren Heeger and either Fiona Kelly or Avery Lane. It is a good mix of talent and each runner brings their own strengths to the table for the Orioles.
Plainfield sophomore Samantha Woodford is the first Quakers girl to reach the state finals since 2006. Getting through that tough Carmel semistate, as an individual is a very tall order for any participant.
“I don’t think people realize how difficult that Carmel semistate really is,” Plainfield coach Wes Woodson said. “You’ve got to be on to get out of it. First, you have to be good and second, you can’t run an average race. That is not a rip on the other semistates, but there were a lot of good runners who didn’t get out of there.”
According to Woodson, Woodford continues to make great progress as a runner and even has made strides of improvement thought the postseason.
“Her growth as a runner has been obvious,” Woodson said. “She is coming into her own a little bit and she is also getting stronger. She is responding to the workouts and has a plan and is running smart. It is a lot of fun to coach her and she is putting it all together.”
The girls’ race begins at 1 p.m. with the boys’ state final competition starting at 1:45 p.m.