All in the family: Patriot follows Mom's advice

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Heritage Hills sophomore Sienna Crews, foreground, Jasper freshman Hannah Welsh, background, and Heritage Hills senior Ben Woolems all will run in Saturday’s cross country state finals at Terre Haute. Crews, who will run for the second straight year, owns a unique advantage over her competitors: She receives advice from her mom, Kathleen, a 10-time state champion in high school.

Herald Sports Writer

When a teenage girl learns she’s acting just like her mother did when she was her age, it probably isn’t uncommon if panic ensues. But Sienna Crews couldn’t have been happier with the news.


Sienna, a Heritage Hills sophomore, advanced to the cross country state finals for the second consecutive year with a fourth-place finish in last weekend’s semistate. Along with Heritage Hills senior Ben Woolems (10th at the semistate) and Jasper freshman Hannah Welsh (13th), Sienna will run in Saturday’s meet at Terre Haute.

She doesn’t have to worry about where to turn for advice.

Her mom, Kathleen, knows her way around a cross country course. Just a little bit. Kathleen, a 1980 graduate of Apollo High School in Owensboro, claimed the cross country state title all four years in high school and ended her prep career a 10-time state champion as she added six more wins in track and field (three in the mile-run, two in the half-mile and one in the mile relay).

In other words, “My mom really knows what she’s talking about,” Sienna said.

That’s why when Sienna recently found a newspaper story written when her mom was in school, she beamed. She knew of her mom’s prep running career, but seeing the resemblance in looks and attitude made the comparisons much more real.

“She found an article about me and she said, ‘Mom we’re the same,’ and I said, ‘Honey, when it comes to running, I’m your girl,’” Kathleen said, laughing.

Sienna entered last year’s state finals seeded 42nd, but finished 26th, just one spot away from an all-state qualification. Because Sienna surpassed those expectations — and also that she’s competing this year as an individual instead of part of the team — she’s past the happy-to-be-here stage.

“This year people are expecting me to do better,” Sienna said.

Therein lies the problem most elite prep athletes who participate in an individual sport encounter: trying to meet unreasonable expectations that are in place only because of their own success. Once again, Sienna’s mom can relate.

When Sienna read the article about her mom, she not only thought they looked alike but also thought along the same wavelength. Competition is great because Sienna said both she and her mom realize it makes them run harder, but neither is driven by the thought of trying to pass people on the course. Both simply love to run. So when Sienna told her mom they think alike, her mom understood. 

“What she was talking about is you win one race and then everyone thinks you’re going to win everything after that,” Kathleen said. “She had a great freshman year and she has more pressure … So we just tell her do your best.”

The advice sounds simple because it is. But when a 10-time champ talks, you typically listen.

Sienna’s running partner for the past two weeks also realizes the importance of Saturday.

For the first time, Woolems has advanced to the state finals. He was expected to compete for the honor last season before an injury held him out of the postseason.

There’s been no such problems this year. And since he and Crews were the only Patriots to advance past the sectional, they’ve had an opportunity to share their outlook. Sienna has the past experience while Ben has the knowledge of knowing not to take anything for granted. 

“We’ll talk sometimes whenever we go on warmups and cooldowns just about how we need to give it our all this weekend and how it’s our last race,” Woolems said. “We need to just lay it all on the line.”

“For Ben to end his great career at the state finals — and hopefully Sienna continues to improve and who knows what she may do by her junior or senior year, if she stays healthy through everything — just a great feat in itself,” Heritage Hills coach Kurt Denning added. “It’s a joy coming here working with them every day. We made the season as long as we could.”

Teammates will be going to support Crews and Woolems, as well as Welsh, who ran with other Wildcats on the Jasper Riverwalk on Wednesday in the run-up to Saturday. Welsh said her state-qualifying run at semistate was so joyful her dad cried.

Kathleen said she usually has a similar response to seeing Sienna run — a combination of pride and having her daughter remind her of her own running days.

Sienna said there may have been times when she began running that she competed for her mom. After all, she was the one who wanted Sienna on the course, at least back when Sienna started running as a sixth-grader. Sienna didn’t want to run, at first. She even asked her mom if she could quit after finishing her first race (she remembers finishing about 10th out of 80 competitors). Her mom denied the request, saying she thought Sienna was too talented not to pursue an athletic career.

The nudging from Mom ended a long time ago. Sienna no longer needs talked into competing. That rush she felt after the initial pushback? It’s everlasting.

“She encouraged me to start,” Sienna said. “She thought that I could be a good runner whenever I was in sixth grade, but now I’m hooked.”

Contact John Patishnock at

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