They almost pulled it off last year. But this year, they finally did.
After being edged by Sussex Tech in 2015, the Indian River High School girls’ cross-country team got the 2016 season started with their first-ever win over the Ravens in their home-opening tri-meet held on Wednesday, Sept. 22.
For some of the team’s seniors, it’s a hurdle that they’ve been looking to clear for the past four years.
“I really wanted to beat Tech. We were close last year,” said senior Maddie Hogsten, who’s been no stranger to besting the Henlopen North rival on the soccer field but who had yet to see it happen on the cross-country trails headed into Wednesday’s meet.
“They are on Cloud 9 right now, and they should be,” said the coach formerly known as Katie Holloway — now known as IR girls’ head cross-country coach Katie Ryman after marrying IR cross-country head coach Maj. Frank Ryman this summer. “They’ve been working really hard for this.”
Hogsten paved the way for wins over both Tech and Seaford, claiming a first-place finish with a time of 22:49. Not far behind was fellow senior Sydney Messick, ensuring second just 14 ticks later, with a time of 23:03.
While Tech senior Chloe Fisher would nab third as the Ravens’ first finisher, the Indians saw three other runners crack the top 10, to seal the 21-36 victory, with junior Olivia Garvey placing fourth (23:48), junior Jewel Yanek fifth (23:56) and sophomore Sarah Roehl rounding out the lot on the heels of Tech sophomore Kylie Milner, with a time of 25:19.
Interestingly enough, it was Fisher who took second for the Ravens during last year’s matchup, behind graduated senior Roxanne Ramirez. But with a core group of seasoned returners, the Indians were ready for redemption.
“I think we all had the mindset of wanting to go in strong,” said Messick. “I think that’s why we did so well.”
Tacking on the division win over Seaford, the girls moved to 2-0 on the season and 1-0 in the Henlopen South.
The IR boys’ cross country team split the day, getting a South win over Seaford but falling to Tech after the Ravens collected the top eight finishes behind junior Ben Bamforth’s first-place time of 17:48. Sophomore Tony Velasquez finished first for the Indians, clocking in at 19:42, for ninth overall, just 12 seconds behind Tech’s Jake Caldwell in eighth.
Graduating six key seniors from last year’s squad, including All-Conference runner Mason Sanders, the boys’ team has been reloaded with an array of underclass talent, in addition to seniors Gavin Gates and David Clark.
According to boys’ head coach Frank Ryman, both squads are larger in numbers than they’ve ever been before, nearly doubling in size from last fall and unparalleled in comparison to when Ryman helped launch the program in 2009, with only five runners for the boys and six for the girls.
That team mounted a collective three wins during their trial season, the number of which the 2016 squad has already matched after just one meet.
Needless to say, the bar for Indian River cross-country has been raised, as this year’s squad is once again aiming for the Henlopen South title.
“It’s always the goal. We take one at a time. We go for the South first, and then we look ahead and we see what’s next,” Maj. Ryman said. “Our team is growing. Our team is growing in strength, but also in spirit.”
That growth of spirit was on full display Wednesday, when the team’s top finishers rallied to cheer on remaining runners from not only IR, but Tech and Seaford as well, after crossing the finish line and catching their breath.
“That’s really what cross-country is about, is cheering everyone on until the end,” Messick explained, noting that she also enjoys it when parents and fans yell during the final stretch of finish.
“It’s something that we’ve always seen with our team, and you see with the other teams, too. It’s very unique to the sport,” added Maj. Ryman. “That’s what we want to see in our young athletes — we want to see that type of sportsmanship.”
While the shared sense of hardship and emotion might be chalked up as part of the sport, both coaches have high hopes of taking yet another step for the program with what they expressed as a special group of runners.
“They’re always special. Who else wants to run three miles for the fun of it?” said Katie Ryman with a laugh. “They’re like a giant family.”
After the historic win for the girls, both squads were gearing up for a quad-meet against Delmar, Dover and Early-College High School (ECHS) at Delaware State University on Wednesday, Oct. 5, (after Coastal Point press time). They’ll hit the road again after that, taking on Polytech, Caesar Rodney and Sussex Academy at Poly on Wednesday, Oct. 12, at 4 p.m.
They won’t race at home until the following week, on Wednesday, Oct. 19, hosting Lake Forest and Milford in a tri-meet meet that could very likely hold significant Henlopen South title implications.