Oak Creek girls cross country coach Paul Soto is certain there is a quality fifth runner out there on his 25-woman team, because excellent things could happen for his squad if they do.
He knows, however, that he has to stay patient and hope that injuries and illnesses get better in the next three weeks or so.
In the interim, he's going to enjoy what his top four of Shannon Dugan, Hollie Poehler, Emma Sims and Mikayla Fox are doing — such as leading the Knights to an impressive second-place showing in the 29-team Angel Invitational at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside on Saturday.
Top runners impress
Soto said success such as this has a simple foundation in that Dugan was a state meet qualifier a year ago, but help is needed if there is going to be team success.
"One of the things I've been trying to get them to understand is the value of hard work," he said. "Off-season training, especially by that three (Poehler, Sims and Fox) has really paid off. They came out for track last spring, and they ran all summer, too.
"Now look at what they're doing."
The trio, with Dugan's leadership, led the Knights to an 86-point total at Parkside, just five points behind Brookfield Central (81) and well ahead of third-place Cedar Grove-Belgium.
Poehler, with great encouragement from Dugan, was the lead runner for Oak Creek, taking third on the 4,000-meter Parkside layout in 15 minutes, 11 seconds, while Dugan was fourth in 15:12. Soto said that Poehler had been running well for most of the race, but hit a wall late.
"Shannon just called out to her, 'You've got to get up here with me. You can do it,'" Soto said. "And she did. Shannon has just been a great leader all fall."
Sims and Fox weren't far behind, as Sims was eighth in 15:38 and Fox 11th (15:40).
Waiting for recoveries
However, as Soto noted, he has to be patient about that all-important five spot. Saturday, it was senior Grace Goldensoph in 64th (17:02), while Lindsay Senger was 84th (17:26).
Goldensoph was actually one of the Knights' top runners last fall, but is still recovering from an injury suffered in the spring. Similarly, Serena Hukarevic also was a top performer for the team last season but is recovering from an illness.
"Those kids are still getting into shape," he said. "We're hoping they can come through for us soon."
The aim is to be ready for the Oct. 19 Southeast Conference meet at Grant Park.
Soto said the powerful efforts this fall are a far cry from when he took over as head coach about eight years ago.
"That first year, I think I was able to get six girls to come out," he said. "Those kids were tough, and they were building blocks for us. I just keep telling these kids, if you work hard, you'll have a lot of success."
The team is now up to 25 runners, and that includes 11 freshmen.
"It's all coming around as I hoped," he said. "By the end of last track season (in June) I thought I could have four or five runners under 16 minutes (for cross country's 4,000-meter courses) and now look, we have four already."
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