Thursday, October 30, 2014

Trinity Aims for the Top

When Trinity at River Ridge won the 4A sectionals packing their top five runners within 33 seconds of each other, taking five of the top ten places, the temptation was to believe that this was the team's best race.  Coach Jesse Schoen disagrees.  The best performance he's witnessed from his team came in last year's sectional championships.

Trinity team with Section 4A trophy
The circumstances were similar.  Trinity had a strong team.  Was going for a berth in the MSHSL State XC Championships, but things did not go well.  "We had some things that were kind of a let down going into the meet,"  says Schoen.  Five of the top 12 on the team could not compete, yet the team that did run gave it everything that they had, said Schoen. They ended up in a tie for second, but lost the State qualifying spot in the tiebreaker.

"After the race I got a lot of condolences," Schoen said.  "The fact that we tied may have been a good thing.  Those girls stepped up.  It was the most impressive performance I've seen."  Inadvertently it showed the team its potential and left that elusive goal of making State an even more inspiring objective.

It demonstrated that you don't win races on paper, you have to perform on the day, even if others think you can't.  It showed how adept members of the team were at handling adversity, unexpected setbacks.  A life lesson nearly everyone encounters, and that members of the team have overcome.  Their top runner, Theresa Mueller, had never run competitively before she transferred from St. Agnes to Trinity in 2012.  She had to sit out a year because of MSHSL transfer rules because her family does not live in Eagan.

Mueller didn't let that obstacle get in her way.  She's ranked second in the State and has led the team this year.  Last year's number one runner, Becca Wilkin, has had a more serious obstacle.  This year she was debilitated by a spontaneous pneumothorax.  "Spontaneous means the pneumothorax was not caused by an injury such as a rib fracture. Primary spontaneous pneumothorax is likely due to the formation of small sacs of air (blebs) in lung tissue that rupture, causing air to leak into the pleural space. Air in the pleural space creates pressure on the lung and can lead to its collapse. A person with this condition may feel chest pain on the side of the collapsed lung and shortness of breath," according to the Genetics Home Reference site.

Wilkin collapsed, couldn't walk, and was hospitalized.  Since the root cause of the condition--i.e. why the blebs form in the lung--is often unknown, there is also the anxiety that it can happen again.  But Wilkin has not let the condition or the fear of recurrence inhibit her recovery.  "She's really been trying to get back," said Schoen. In a program that prides itself on team members willing to do the summer training necessary to come into the season fit and ready race to the top, Wilkin has only had seven to eight weeks of training to prepare.  "She's probably only about 90%," said Schoen. 

Instead of being the team's lead runner, Wilkin was their fourth finisher at Sections.  How much can one improve in one week?  If the team's top five run as well as they did in Sections, Wilkin probably doesn't have to make another jump in performance to hold off challengers, defending Class A girl's champs, Annandale or Lac Qui Parle Valley-Dawson Boyd.  It would be a historic landmark for Trinity, who, when Schoen became the coach of the boy's and girl's teams in 2008, didn't even have enough students participating in the sport to field a team. There were two boys and four girls in the program.

Now there are 25 varsity runners for each team, says Schoen.  Whether they take home the team trophy or not, says Schoen, the goal going into State is for everybody to give it their all, perform at their best on the day.  It's an easy thing to say or concept to grasp where the results come down to execution.  It's why champions are not always at the top of the podium, but are no less of a champion than those who are.

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