Recipe for repeat success
Winning a state championship is every high school team’s ultimate accomplishment.
In fact, having the chance to win back-to-back state titles — which happened Saturday at Wamego — would seem twice as hard as winning the first.
Not the case for the Baldwin High School girls’ cross country team.
BHS has found that magic recipe for success at the state level. It’s a homemade recipe and its four main ingredients are motivation, senior leadership, eating healthy and annual traditions.
After winning the Class 4A title in 2007, the BHS girls’ team enjoyed their title for nine months before having to worry about this fall. Baldwin returned six of the seven girls from the squad that won state by 46 points. A casual observer might think the team wouldn’t need much motivation to repeat as champions.
“It’s so hard to repeat, because we had the target on our back all year,” coach Mike Spielman said. “Everybody was coming after us, but we lost some seniors and we were trying to find our identity all year.”
Baldwin had to find its identity early in the year as its rival and 4A state runner-up De Soto began the year crushing BHS. At the opening meet, the Anderson County Invitational, the Wildcats scored 20 to Baldwin’s 40 points. It came as a shock to BHS runners, but may have been the spark they needed.
“De Soto just whipped us at that first meet of the year,” Spielman said. “They doubled up the score on us at that meet. The girls knew they had their work cut out for them at that point, but that just motivated them. Things started to click at that point.”
A week later, the Wamego Invitational was canceled because of heavy rainfall. So the Bulldogs ran a home meet the next week, before participating in the prestigious Rim Rock meet.
There, Baldwin avenged the earlier loss to De Soto. The two teams wouldn’t meet for another three weeks. The Bulldogs won their final five meets of the year, beating the Wildcats at the final three.
“For the girls, it probably wasn’t a bad thing we didn’t go to Wamego, because we really got after it in practice for a couple weeks there,” Spielman said. “We just started running better and better each week. They got in this groove starting with Rim Rock.”
Strong senior duo
Leading the way at most of those meets were seniors Calleigh Durr and Corinna Papps. They not only led on the course, but the pair took responsibility of the team this fall.
The two Bulldogs had big shoes to fill after two-time state champion Heather Garcia graduated last May. Durr wasn’t sure she wanted that responsibility at the beginning of the season, but she became accustomed to being a leader.
“Corinna and I tried to lead everyone in workouts this year, since we were the seniors,” Durr said. “I thought it was going to be difficult. After watching Heather do it for a couple of years, I sort of knew what to do. I thought it would be harder and sometimes it was when they wouldn’t listen to us. I kind of grew into the role and fit it well, I guess.”
Replacing Garcia was nearly impossible. Her record times and gold medals weren’t going to be replaced. However, leading the team and taking charge were two tasks Durr and Papps handled with ease.
“She (Garcia) was a great leader, not only by what she said, but the girls knew every time out she was going to win,” Spielman said. “This year they had to come up with a new identity. So the two seniors did a great job of leading and put their own stamp on the team. They did what they felt comfortable doing and it really paid off.”
The two seniors even took partial leadership roles earlier on in their high school careers. They helped orchestrate three state championships in four seasons, especially the last two titles.
“They were talking about that on the bus,” Spielman said. “Calleigh mentioned that they’ve won state three out of four times. Heather Karlin joked with her and said she’s two for two. It’s something that they leave with and it’s something to be very proud of.”
Durr confirmed the desire to never fall from the top.
“After our freshman year we wanted to win four out of four,” she said. “Then we lost our sophomore year and we were really upset about that. So then we said we were never going to let that happen again. It is a good feeling.”
A year ago, the BHS girls’ cross country team made a two-week sacrifice that assisted it in winning the state championship. The sacrifice — not eating sweets or unhealthy foods.
The Bulldogs believed the healthier lifestyle helped them so much a year ago, they decided to extend it from two weeks to the entire season. That’s in addition to giving up drinking pop and other carbonated beverages.
“My thinking behind it is that since we didn’t have Heather, we were going to have to do everything we possibly could to win,” Durr said. “I wanted to know as a senior that we did everything we could to win this year.”
Some of the girls admitted to sneaking in some unhealthy treats on occasion.
“We quit sweets for the whole season this year,” Papps said. “It was hard and I cheated a few times here and there.”
Durr admitted the girls would debate about what to eat and what was considered junk food or unhealthy. In the end, she said it wasn’t hard for her.
“Honestly, I didn’t cheat at all,” Durr said. “I know some other girls did, but I never did. It wasn’t really that difficult for me, because I don’t eat that much junk food anyway.”
All of that focus on health came to an end Saturday night. After winning the championship, the girls’ team drank pop at the famed Kreme Kup restaurant in Wamego. Later that night, they celebrated by eating hordes of candy and sweets.
“My stomach still hurts,” junior Connor Twombly said. “We had a lot of junk food Saturday night.”
Although none of the girls are sure how much the healthier lifestyle helped them run this fall, their coach believes it helped them stay healthy and run every day.
“We stayed pretty healthy this year,” Spielman said. “We didn’t have any sickness or anything like that. We were able to have everybody at practice every day and that’s one reason for the big margin of victory. We had our top six or seven healthy for every meet.”
Part of becoming an annual powerhouse is learning how to focus on the task at hand and learning to handle the pressure. Each year, Spielman tells his team the important meets of the season are the Frontier League meet, 4A regional and state.
He even admits that the girls’ team went through a noticeable change during the past few weeks this year.
“You could just see during the last three weeks that they come together and become a really tight-knit team,” Spielman said. “They had this whole different personality as the state meet approached. They did a great job of focusing in on that. Nothing seemed to bother them and I think other teams could look over and see how focused they were each meet.”
During the week of the state meet, the Bulldogs have a few traditions to look forward to. Their parents give them gift bags as they load the bus the night before, they dress up for their trip to the Topeka mall and the overnight trip to a motel.
“It helps you look forward to the week,” Papps said. “It also helps take some pressure off of being at state. You know you’re going to have fun and be part of a tradition.”
One of the coveted traditions of BHS cross country is the annual scripts. Each runner writes a one-to-two page story describing the entire day of the state race, which includes when they wake up, the breakfast, pre-race routine and the race itself.
Spielman reads each one before handing them back to the runners. They then carry it with them and read it several times before the race.
“It helps them a bunch, because it takes that edge off of being at the state meet,” Spielman said. “A lot of kids tend to freak out because it’s state, but I think it helps calm them down. If they read this then they know what to expect and what to do.
“This was our best year of scripts on both teams, by far,” he said. “We had 16 really good ones and they got them in early. They have it figured out pretty well, because if they would go back and read them after the race, it’s pretty scary how close they were to predicting the race.”
Most scripts include mile splits and final times, along with individual and team goals. Durr used hers this year to push her that extra bit.
“We always talk about what we need to do and we all write our scripts,” Durr said. “It helped me stay mentally prepared, because I told myself I’m not going to be tired at certain points in the race. When you say you are going to do something, you do it.”
Maybe the most important tradition is being part of the BHS cross country team. It’s something the eight girls with gold medals wouldn’t trade for anything.
“I think it helps get people out for cross country,” Twombly said. “It’s not all about just running, because that can be a downer. We try to have fun as a team and it works, I guess.”
“Having all of those traditions kind of reminds you that you are running for Baldwin, which is traditionally a powerhouse in 4A,” she said. “We were all mentally ready for the race and we went out there and got it done.”
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