The Western Reserve Academy girls cross country team ran a competitive schedule in 2013.
The highlight of the season being the Pioneers first-place finish at the Sim Earich Invitational in Cortland.
With the most runners on the team in school history, head coach Jeff Warner was able to overcome the loss of co-captain and No. 1 runner Mia Medicus, a senior, to an injury and assemble a competitive squad.
"We had a nice influx of new students this year who like to run, including [junior] Ana Ballard, [junior] Nina Tekelenburg and [sophomore] Katherine [Wren] Zandee and they played a huge role for us," Warner said.
"We also had a nice group of freshmen who at one point or another during the season spent time on the varsity, including Elizabeth Downing, Anna Anderson and JiJi Kang.
"It is nice to know that for the next three years, we have a core group of runners that we can continue to build around."
Warner credits his returning runners, including Medicus, senior co-captain Halle Sovich, senior Sophie Nichols and junior Molly Hulver with helping him turn a large group of runners with different abilities into a cohesive team.
"Because we had more new girls than returning runners, I talked with the returners and emphasized that we needed to teach the new girls the culture of how we do things in cross country at WRA," Warner said.
"I am proud of them and especially of the captains, because they made it happen. The entire team saw the value of it and bought into what we wanted to do."
Downing, who spent most of the season as one of the team's top runners, earned the Most Valuable Runner award.
"Elizabeth came to practice every day with a desire to push herself, to become better and in this, Elizabeth reflected the entire team," Warner said.
"It's tough for a freshman to lead a group of older girls, but Elizabeth fed off a great team work ethic and the support of her teammates and she combined that with her own talent and competitive nature.
"The highlight of her season came at the Galion Invitational, when she ran a time of 21:18, making her the 18th fastest girl to ever run for Reserve."
The Most Improved Runner award was presented to sophomore Erin Dockery.
"Last year, Erin came to cross country with a little middle school running experience and it was a tough year for her," Warner said. "
[But] she refused to quit on herself or her teammates and as soon as the season ended, Erin quietly began to run on her own.
The result is that Erin may well have run more training miles, from season to season, than anyone else on our team.
"This year, she did not disappoint herself or her many fans as she dropped nearly four minutes from her best times of last year.
"Erin deserves this award as much as anyone ever has."
Sovich and Nichols were co-recipients of the Coaches/Spirit Award.
"I knew that Halle, a four-year runner, would have the people skills to keep our many new runners working as a unit, but I was looking for her to also lead by example in practices and meets this year," Warner said.
"Halle did a great job of balancing her own personal goals with the goals of her teammates this year, demonstrating exactly the kind of toughness and commitment the team needed from her.
"Those who know Sophie recognize that she works incredibly hard at everything she does and that has certainly been the case with cross country where she ran varsity as a sophomore and as a junior.
However, this year an influx of new runners pushed Sophie to the junior varsity, yet she never visibly flinched in her effort. Sophie is the kind of hardworking, committed, unselfish teammate that every coach and athlete should want on a team."
While the Pioneers will miss the contributions of their four graduating seniors -- including Medicus, who finishes her WRA career as the eighth-fastest runner in school history -- Warner is optimistic that the work put in this season will pay off next fall.
"It was hard to not have Mia this year, but as a team, we learned how to run without her and that will help us next season," he said. "We only lose Halle from our top five runners from this season and with our returning mix of junior and freshman runners from this year's team, I am really excited."
Tekelenburg and Hulver recently were named captains for 2014.