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Ithaca girls have big-time plans in 2014

Gene LeBron can’t help but smile and truth be told who can blame him?

This past week the LeBron family said hello to its newest member as Mica Geno LeBron said hello to the world on Wednesday morning.

In the hours directly following his birth his father Gene LeBron was all smiles, especially when he strolled into the Gratiot County Fairgrounds to coach his Ithaca girls cross country team in the annual Gratiot County Championship meet.

Hands were shaken and congratulations were in order.

For LeBron, who had been with his wife Allison at the hospital all morning and afternoon, Wednesday’s cross country meet was obviously a side note to a grand occasion.

Yet, from his perspective, he also felt that he needed to be there with his team because the meet was just a couple minutes down the road and Ithaca was playing the role of host school.

Moreover the Yellowjackets, who finished 10th in the Division 3 state finals last year, have the potential to make some history in 2014 and basically LeBron wants to be there to lead his youthful team every step of the way.

“We know what we’re capable of and we know what we can do on paper,” LeBron said of his 2014 squad. “Really it’s about trying to keep focused and getting better every day. We feel like we have a shot to compete with any team in Division 3, but there are so many good teams out, especially in this area.”

In Wednesday’s meet the Ithaca girls had all five of its scoring runners finish in the top-seven overall en route to its third invite title in as many tries as it finished atop the field with 23 points.

Additionally the Yellowjackets have also won the St. Johns Night Run on Aug. 22 and the Yellowjacket Invite on Aug. 28 where they beat defending Division 3 state champion Shepherd by nine points.

Historically speaking LeBron has been one of the most vocal and ardent supporters of prep cross country and track and field in the mid-Michigan area for a good number of years now. That being said he’s also proved to be one of the best coaches in the state as evidenced by his team’s emergence onto the statewide-scene.

What makes this rise to the top even more impressive is the fact that his team is so young with one senior, four juniors and three sophomores leading the way. But it doesn’t stop there because there are plenty of runners awaiting their turn in the wings.

“One of the things I’ve been preaching lately is we got a lot of girls who aren’t going to figure into the mix with the varsity team this year,” he added. “But they’re going to be solid 20-minute runners in a year or two. I’ve been really trying to work with them and keep them going because our top seven right now are exceptional. You want them to realize their time is going to come. I tell them you all want to be varsity and you want it right now.

“In this sport you have to keep working at it and they’ve been buying into that and their times reflect that. So we’ll be built, even when we lose this group, for the long haul and that’s what our goal is, to develop kids because you can’t rely on getting the superstars that some of the other schools get. We try to develop our kids and every now and then we get a Courtney Allen who comes in and does some amazing things.”

Allen finished 11th overall at the D3 state finals last November as a freshman and has led the Yellowjackets in every meet this season finishing runner-up twice and third once.

Add in juniors Kurstin Kalisek, Blaire Showers and Alyssa Mankey, senior Hannah Thayer and sophomores Amelia Freestone and Mikayla Fairchild and what you end up with is a dynamic team one through seven.

“Our main goal is just to perform better than last year and finish the season strong,” said Allen. “The potential is here with this team for the next two years, but we’re looking at doing something this year.”

If you look at the numbers, or times, the Yellowjackets’ scoring runners have all cut considerable time in their first three meets which bodes well going forward.

But then again they cannot settle or become complacent.

“I’ve been telling our girls what we’re capable of, even before this year, and they looked at me like I was crazy,” said LeBron. “Now I think they’re starting to get it, now they’re starting to realize their potential and that’s really the best part of coaching. There’s about four of five of them that have a legitimate shot at being All-State this year and that’s what it’s going to take to win (the state title). I think you’re going to need three or four All-Staters to win it and if you don’t have that you probably won’t. We want to go back to the state meet and see what we can do. We also want to get to the podium (top-two finish).”

Last Updated: 9/7/2014 12:29:33 PM EST