By JARED JERNAGAN
When the Greencastle girls' cross country team opens the season tonight, it will be with high expectations from its coach. But that's nothing new for Coach Garry Anderson's runners. What is different from 2007 is the Lady Tiger Cubs' experience entering the 2008 campaign.
"We have some experience compared to last year. Last year we only had the one girl with experience, so it was a bit difficult," Anderson said.
The experience all comes from the GHS junior class, where Sara Culler, Kaitlyn Murtagh and Ivonne Martinez have taken the lead for their coach all summer.
"Sara is a two-year letter winner. She and Kaitlyn and Ivonne have been tremendous leaders so far," Anderson said. "In fact, they've been conditioning with the team for some time this summer. I'm very please and surprised that they did as well as they did, but a coach doesn't get two or three girls like this very often."
Anderson said they have made his job easier. He may be there to set the tone, but during practice the girls take the lead and run the show. They have shown a self-sufficiency the coach values highly.
"They kept me in touch all summer long with how girls were doing, including themselves -- who wasn't coming, who was coming to the conditioning. They were the leaders the entire summer. I'm very please with those three girls," Anderson commented.
GHS has a total of nine girls out this season, adding one senior, two sophomores and a senior.
"My senior is Brittany Johnson. This is her first year of cross country," Anderson said. "She primarily is a thrower during track season. She wanted to give cross country a try to be in better shape physically for track. It's rather difficult for her, but she's working very hard.
The two GHS sophomores are also getting used to the new experience.
"We have two sophomores in Sasha Query and Felisha Barger," the coach said. "Felisha is a runner during track season, she's a miler, so this is her first experience with cross country. She had some experience this summer running in several 5K races in the county and surrounding areas. That was good for her.
"Sasha is going to try track this year; she's a thrower so this is a new experience for her. Much like Brittany, she's not actually built for running, but she's gutty," he added.
Of course, for the freshmen, their first high school sport is always adjustment. Anderson said Olivia Humphreys, Emily Gill and Jasmine Dwigans have come along well.
"They're just thrown into the heat of things. They're so used to just running two miles or a mile and a half, whatever it was. Now they're doing 5K, so it's quite a shock. They've hopped right in here and haven't missed a beat," Anderson said. "At first, they were a little gun shy, but now they're just part of the gang like everybody else."
As for the coach's expectations, they simply involve winning. He said he wants a winning season, a Putnam County championship, a WCC championship and to advance out of sectional.
He knows none of these things come easily, though.
"That's a pretty tough order. Monrovia's coming back very strong this year. So are South Putnam and Cloverdale. So even winning the county or conference are pretty awesome things. We'll see," Anderson commented.
However, the coach remains confident. He knows his girls have put in the work and feels confident that work will pay off.
"They've challenged each other in practice throughout the summer. So they respect each other. They drop back and help bring the girls up if somebody's having a tough night. We're starting to group up now from the number one to the number seven runner. That's always encouraging this time of year. Hopefully they'll be even better by the end of the season," Anderson concluded.
One new development for GHS will be a new home course. Last season, they had all of their meets on the road. In 2008, they will host meets at the DePauw Nature Park.
The Tiger Cubs will give their new stomping ground a shot for the first time today when they host Cloverdale at 4:30 p.m.