Tornadoes keep working, finding success

Now a Division I?team, TC faces tougher road to make it back to state

PHOTO BY ZACH BAKER Columbian’s Kelsey Weingart runs with her teammates during practice Wednesday near Frost-Kalnow Stadium.

Columbian’s girls cross country team made it to the state meet last season, and is running just as well this year — if not better — than before.

But it’s a different field this season.

A Division II program a season ago, the Tornadoes were bumped to Division I this year, meaning they will be competing with bigger schools in the postseason meets.

“Moving to D-I was definitely a big transition for us, because after last year, doing so well, at every single meet, and then this year, having to fight for it a little bit more,” said Columbian senior Sierra Steinmetz. “Even though we’re running faster, we’re not placing as well, because these teams are so big. But we’ve definitely made the most of it.”

The results so far have been good.

The Tornadoes competed in the Fostoria Invitational Red Division last week, and placed second behind St. Ursula Academy. The Tornadoes were led by Mia Ingalls, who finished fourth, and Caleigh Aigler, who placed ninth.

The previous week, the Tornadoes won the Norwalk Invitational. Ingalls placed second, and four others — Annalyce Bowles, Madison Grabert, Ali Woessner and Kelsey Weingart all finished in the top 10.

Coach Mark Ingalls said the team has had a different top nine finishers in each race this season.

“Different leaders, that means we’re pushing each other, and the harder we push each other, the more success we earn,” said Serena Ingalls, Mark’s daughter and Mia’s sister. “Having different leaders, even though (the top two are) kind of consistent between Mia and Caleigh, 3-7, they are the hardest numbers, because they push each other, and fluctuate every week.”

Senior Jocelyn Hardina agreed, and said the runners are aware of that.

“I definitely feel like there’s some friendly competition going on among everybody,” she said. “Definitely, the top seven spots are always…people are fighting for it, but it definitely helps to make us better and push us.”

The Tornadoes will look to push each other again Saturday, when they compete in the Sandusky Bay Conference Lake Championships, at Hedges-Boyer Park. The Tornadoes won the Lake meet last year.

So, the Tornadoes may have a homefield advantage.

“It kind of makes it more special, because you get to be in your hometown and on a course that we’re really familiar with,” Hardina said.

“I’d love another championship,” Serena Ingalls said. “I’d love a trophy.”

Columbian’s runners feel they’re better than a year ago, but not just because of what happens on the course.

“It’s not even about the whole running thing that we’re a better team, but how close we are,” senior Katie Keefe said, “and how much of a family we are.”

Coach Ingalls agreed.

“I would say that these guys are closer than last year,” he said. “I think that comes from our seniors, and this idea of a family and who they run for, and what’s on the front of the shirt. But the focus has been the same. A lot of the things we do are the same, like team dinners, team meals…there’s that closeness that keeps them together, keeps them motivated.”

And in preparation for a D-I postseason, the coach said he’s changed some things.

“We ran more and did some different things. We’re stronger, we spend more time lifting, some body-strength exercises, functional fitness and things like that, because we just have to be bigger and stronger, with the size of the schools that they have that we don’t have,” he said.

Steinmetz knows it could be a tougher road to get back to where the team was a year ago, but said the team’s attitude hasn’t changed.

“It hasn’t been a huge topic so far, because our motto’s been ‘not yet,’ we’re not done yet,” she said. “We’re gonna absolutely (work hard) until the end, and do the best we can, even if the odds are not as for us as they were last year.”

Steinmetz said coach Ingalls has helped.

“He’s certainly very inspirational with his words,” she said. “That’s his most powerful tool, keeping us in the mind set that everything’s still possible, we’re not out of it. We will get there if we’re meant to get there.”

The girls Lake Division race is scheduled to start at 1:20 p.m.