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Lady Warriors know what it takes to be area champions PHOTO GALLERY

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When the topic of cross country comes up, many push it to the side. It’s just a race in a park; it’s just girls and boys running. There’s no contact, no one scores a touchdown; no one gets a penalty, there’s no overtime.

But just how much effort does it take to run those races?

Any of the local teams who ran at Saturday’s News Herald Cross Country Meet will tell you the same answer; it takes a lot of effort.

The Woodhaven girls’ cross country team has dominated the competition so far this fall and looked to do much of the same at this weekend’s annual News- Herald Cross Country Meet.

The Warriors stole the show at both Downriver League jamborees, finishing first with 27 and 23 points. They finished 30 points ahead of Roosevelt, their closest competition at the first jamboree of the year and were 43 points ahead of the Bears at the second one.

That kind of success does not come easily. Conditioning for the fall season begins just after school gets out. The teams meet up to five days a week for a variety of workouts to prepare for the months ahead, but team bonding starts then as well.

“It is during this time that they are building the foundation for a strong fall season, but also forming friendships and bonding with teammates,” Woodhaven girls’ cross country Coach Becky Jackson said. “Often practice ends and the teams are still spending time together, stopping for Slurpees, having a pool party, or meeting at an evening bonfire.”

Although a cross country team has many goals during a season, a News-Herald Championship is always among them.

“Our team spends a portion of our team camp discussing expectations and goals for the season,” Jackson said. “The News-Herald Championship is always a popular topic, as many girls mention the desire to regain the team title (and) creating momentum into the championship phase of the season.”

Once the season is officially started, the Warriors watch their biggest competitors, both at races and on websites to see how things look to stack up once regionals roll around.

The efforts on the courses are a lot of individual efforts rolled into one team effort and Jackson says pressure can be hard to handle at times.

“We do a few things to address the pressure and stress that comes with being not only a competitive team, but also a high school student,” she said. “First, the girls work hard and smart at practice with a training philosophy that supports a range of abilities.”

Jackson says the girls are able to trust in the training to bring confidence and help achieve goals.

“When it comes to planning for specific meets or specific competition, the team meets first to outline personal goals, but also to discuss who the main competition will be, how certain races will have different goals depending on the competition and how the team and coach can contribute to being successful,” she said.

Woodhaven senior runner Kendra Cook is excited about her team’s efforts this year.

“All of our girls, they train really hard,” she said. “We don’t slack. We work hard at practice.

“Like Ms. Jackson says, some girls on other teams, they come out for just the social, but these girls; they come out for the social because we are one big family, but they also come and they train hard.”

The Warriors have been consistently improving, and senior runner Melinda Dietz is excited about heading into the final weeks of the season.

“I’m really proud of our girls, because before we used to not win everything; last year we got second at News-Herald and the year before we got third,” she said. “It’s nice to see that all of our girls are under 26 or right about there, and most teams can’t say that they have girls that good on JV and varsity.”

Karina Villalobos is another senior Warrior excited about her team’s work and her coach’s efforts.

“We train so hard for this,” she said. “Jackson doesn’t focus on just varsity; she focuses on everybody on the team.

“Like Kendra said, we’re a big family.”

And with that family-type atmosphere, comes a lot of team bonding and activities.

Each week the team does a biggest loser challenge and runners that knock off the most time from their 5k get shoe charms.

The Warriors have a plethora of other team bonding activities.

Each meet different girls are assigned to bring hair ribbons to wear and at the end of the season each runner has a collection.

Other activities break up the monotony that can come with running races.

The teams run obstacle courses (duck under hurdles, throw shot puts, run through footwork ladders, etc), paint pillow cases before their annual overnight, add paint footprints to the sweat trash can, visit Apple Charlies after the final long run at Willow Metropark, throw a Zumba day, host pasta parties, and anything else that involves food Jackson said.

“They like any events that involve food,” she said. “Often I will hear of athletes heading out to Buffalo Wild Wings or Steak and Shake after meets.”

The girls also have a cheer and prayer they do before each race and every runner touches Dietz’s head before heading out.

It’s been a good mix of young and old for Woodhaven this season and the senior runners had nothing but praise for the younger ones.

“I think that the freshman have pushed us to be better,” Villalobos said. “They made our team that much better.

“As seniors, it’d be nice to be on varsity, but we’re all here for the betterment of the entire team. it’s not about an individual and we’re really proud of how the freshmen are doing.

“We knew they would do well, but we did not know they would do this well.”

Jackson too, is thrilled with her team’s success.

“The biggest factors in our team’s success this year are attitude and subsequent work ethic,” she said. “When you are on a team that is so strong, it is easy to become frustrated, discouraged or even resentful toward teammates, but these ladies have used this competition to thrive.

“The entire team is very supportive and comes to practice each day not only to work hard, but encourage and push teammates to do the same.”

The support and enthusiasm is what makes Jackson the most proud of her girls this year.

“I have heard stories of athletes that just join cross country for the social elements, not caring about the performance, but my girls have shown you can do both,” she said. “Many of the girls on this year’s team would run varsity at any other school in the area, but are the 10th, 11th and 12th girl on our team.

“They don’t let this discourage them in practice and have continued to work hard and have shown major improvements this season.”

With the News-Herald Meet next on the agenda, Jackson says her Warriors are not worried.

“I would say going into News-Herald, the team is feeling confident and excited to make a statement,” she said. “They have worked very hard in the weeks leading up to the meet and are ready to let their efforts shine in both the varsity and JV races.

Competition like Grosse Ile and Roosevelt are not worrying the girls.

“I do not think the ladies are worried about Wyandotte, but rather motivated to use the one-point loss from last year as fuel for an outstanding performance,” Jackson said. “The team has only raced Grosse Ile at the Warrior Classic in early September, but again, like Wyandotte, I don’t think they are worried about Grosse Ile.”

While the News-Herald meet is a big deal for local runners, Villalobos says her team is already looking ahead to focusing on regionals.

The team is chasing Ann Arbor Pioneer and Saline and closing the gap each time they run with hopes for a first-place finish at the regional race.

“We’re improving as we go on,” Villalobos said. “We haven’t even run our full varsity yet and we’re still beating people.”

Senior Aly Trapp agreed with her and says she hopes the final meet of the season will not include any varsity runners.

“If we make stats, we can’t run at that meet,” Trapp said. “So, our plan is to make our JV team run that meet and we’re going to try to beat the other teams and see how our JV matches up with varsity runners.”

The Warriors went after a team first-place finish at the News-Herald Meet on Saturday at 10 a.m. Check out miprepzone.com/thenewsherald for full results on the event.

Last Updated: 10/9/2014 7:37:59 PM EST

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