By: Nate Schneider
Sacred Heart girls cross country continues to overwhelm competition
Achieving what Sacred Heart has in girls cross country as a small Class D school is almost unfathomable.
The Irish shattered their own Division 4 state record for the lowest point total ever achieved at the state finals last year when it scored 34, beating their previous mark of 52 points set when they won the state title in 2015.
Sacred Heart lost one of its top two runners from the back-to-back state championship teams in Alexis McConnell due to graduation, but her three younger sisters – senior Bailley, junior Cammie and sophomore Desiree – have all returned to the fold in the bird for a third consecutive D4 state crown.
Additionally, the Irish return three other key components in juniors Lauren MacDonald and Scout Nelson along with senior Rowan Fitzpatrick who all competed at the state finals the last two years.
Regardless of Alexis being absent from the fold, this is still an extremely talented and experienced Sacred Heart roster with its sights set squarely on achieving a third straight state championship.
“What I like about the team is the depth that we have,” Irish head coach Mark Zitzelsberger said. “We have eight girls, even after graduating Alexis, that we believe can get under 20 minutes. In Division 4, that’s what you’re racing to get under by the end of the season. Get under 20 minutes, you’ll be All-State.”
The Irish already have three runners in Bailley McConnell (18:53.9), Nelson (19:08) and Desiree McConnell (19:46.2) who have run under 20 minutes this year. A fourth runner in MacDonald ran a 20:03 at the Michigan State Spartan Invitational and ran a 19:43 at last year’s state finals, so it should only be a matter of time before she eclipses the mark.
One source of concern is with Cammie McConnell, who has been absent with a leg injury and is scheduled to undergo an MRI in the next week or so. If the MRI shows everything in good order, she could get back to running soon after and be ready for the state finals.
Cammie placed fourth overall at the 2016 state finals with a time of 19:10.6.
“Our hope is that we get Cammie back,” Zitzelsberger said. “She is a huge part of this team. We’re not worried about her getting up to speed if she’s cleared. She ran 350 miles over the summer. But we’re not going to push her if she isn’t healthy.”
While the group of four McConnell sisters have drawn much of the headlines, the contributions of runners such as Nelson and MacDonald have played a major role in turning the Irish into a dominant force.
“Scout and Lauren have stepped up huge this year,” Zitzelsberger remarked. “Most people don’t even realize that one of our top runners hasn’t even raced this year. I know I sound greedy, but it’s unreal the amount of running talent one little school has been able to manufacture.”