Ranger runners stay close in, beyond races

Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald
The Forest Park cross country team gathered for a group hug during Saturday's cross country sectional at Vincennes University Jasper Campus. The Forest Park girls team won the sectional title.


FERDINAND — A quick study of the Forest Park girls cross country team shows a tight-knit group, one with athletes who regularly finish one another’s thoughts and make each other laugh.

One example of this came Monday, when team members Claire Mehling, Josie Berg and Magda Alvis were talking about their performances at last weekend’s Crawford County Regional in Marengo.

“Magda had a really good race. So did Claire,” Berg said, the second assertion met by a laughing “No” from Mehling before Berg added, “I didn’t.”

“When Magda came across the line, I thought, ‘Wow, she did really good.’” Mehling added.

“Then you saw me, like, dying,” Berg followed, eliciting laughter from all three girls. “That’s OK.”

Yes, the Rangers are certainly comfortable around one another. That’s good news ahead of Saturday’s Brown County Semistate meet at Eagle Park in Nashville, as Forest Park will need its runners grouped together tightly in an effort to earn one of six team qualifying spots in next week’s state meet.

“To get top six, everybody has to get (a personal record),” Berg said. “Like Claire and I were always a minute apart, so I need to get closer to Claire.”

“I need to do the same (with Berg),” Alvis chimed in.

“You can do it,” Berg countered, drawing a laugh from her freshman teammate.

The Rangers have to feel good about their chances of racing at the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course in Terre Haute on the season’s final day, despite no Forest Park team ever having made it that far. The Rangers placed second last week at the regional, with the junior Mehling (second, 19:31), Alvis (12th, 20:54) and the sophomore Berg (14th, 21:02) doing the heavy lifting.

“I think they were very confident with everything I showed them leading up into the (regional),” Forest Park coach Philip Wolf said. “That we ran very tough against all these teams that were in it, and we knew could hold our own by just running a smart race. Not a hard race, just a smart race, and that’s what we did.”

Wolf said his team’s points of emphasis in the regional were a top-three team finish and staying healthy. Mission accomplished on both fronts. So how has the Rangers’ focus shifted in the days since earning a semistate slot for a third consecutive season?

“We just weren’t mentally focused on killing it (at the regional),” Wolf said. “But our attentions have changed to semistate now, and we’ve got to kill it, and we’re going to go after it like that.”

Waiting for the Rangers at semistate will be a loaded field, team-wise. Out of 20 squads, five of them — Floyd Central, Bloomington North, Bloomington South, Evansville Memorial and Columbus North — check in among the latest Indiana Association of Track and Cross Country Coaches top 25.

But Wolf is going to set his team’s sights on a single opponent: Edgewood. Fittingly, the two schools’ runners will line up side by side Saturday.

“They beat us several times this year, but we feel that we’ve been improving throughout the year and closing that time gap on them,” Wolf said. “They’ve got a great frontrunner (Annalyssa Crain) that’s probably going to win semistate, so we’ve got to make up for it with our 4, 5 and 6 runners to make sure we’re in front of their 4 and 5.”

Wolf’s girls know the task that faces them as well, counting Barr-Reeve and Edgewood among their likely toughest competition. But while Mehling and Berg said they’ll probably be nervous prior to the race, they’ll also head into it knowing they placed first in a 16-team meet at the venue on Sept. 9.

“It’s fast. It’s very fast,” Berg said of the course. “Just very stiff competition, so a lot of good teams.”

“It’s flat, and that’s where I got the school record (19:16),” Mehling added. “So I’m really excited to run it.”

Wolf described the possibility of Forest Park making the state meet as “huge” and “a stepping stone” for his program as it tries to become more prominent within Indiana.

“We’re trying to make the south a powerhouse eventually, and we’re doing that,” he said. “Barr-Reeve’s done that with the guys program over there. We’re trying to mark our name in the stone, too, that we’re pretty good.”

Just how good these Rangers are will receive another answer when 140 girls take their first stride after the starter’s gun fires Saturday. The idea of state qualification certainly exists in the minds of Forest Park’s leading runners, though.

“Claire Mehling has a very, very good chance of running at state,” Berg said with a smile.

“I mean, you guys do, too,” Mehling retorted. “It’s definitely been on my mind for some time, and it would just be indescribable.”

“I’d love to go watch,” Berg finished with a laugh. “Maybe run.”

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