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October 28, 2008 3:39 am

Ladies First

Written by Tribune Staff

PHS girls claim state title

In August, the new version of Powell High School opened its doors for its first-ever school year. Less than two months later, the Lady Panther cross country team became the first sports squad at the new venue to claim a state title.

The Lady Panthers placed five runners in the top 20 during the Class 3A state meet at the Sheridan V.A. Hospital grounds last Saturday. In the process, they dethroned 2007's state championship team — the Jackson Lady Broncs.

They also held off a host of other title contenders en route to their memorable performance.

Oddly enough, the Lady Panthers, a team loaded with competitors who were part of the 2006 state championship squad, were paced by a pair of newcomers — freshmen Desiree Murray and Alyssa Rodriguez. Murray finished Saturday as the fourth-fastest runner in a field consisting of more than 70 competitors with a time of 20:23.09, and Rodriguez placed seventh with a 21:05.66. By virtue of their top-10 finishes, Murray and Rodriguez both earned all-state honors.



Shortly after the Lady Panthers won Class 3A's West Conference title Oct. 17, Murray said she and Rodriguez had benefitted from the support and encouragement offered all season by the veterans on the team. That teamwork and togetherness was put on display Saturday. And instead of being visibly nervous about the task at hand, the Lady Panthers were relaxed and quietly confident. They also enjoyed a laugh or two at the line before the starter's gun fired.

“I was really expecting (Desiree and Alyssa) to be nervous, but they weren't,” said McKenzie Danforth, one of only three seniors on the team and a member of the 2006 state championship squad. “In 2006, I was a sophomore and we also had a lot of freshmen running at state. We were all just terrified before the event. But everyone was relaxed today. We had a strong performance at the conference meet, and we knew if we could run like that again today, we'd be fine. We came into it with the mindset that the title was ours to win.”

And win it they did with an impressive score of 57 points. Jackson finished as the runner-up with 83 points, and Glenrock, led by first-place finisher Brooke Hughes, claimed the third-place trophy. Hughes captured the individual title with a time of 18:58.15.

In addition to the all-state performances of Murray and Rodriguez, the Lady Panthers also got top-20 efforts from senior Jordan Bigelow, junior Skye Albert and senior Lauren Dunleavy. Bigelow, an all-state performer at last year's state meet, finished 14th with a 21:49.02. Albert placed 15th with a time of 21:55.5, and Dunleavy was 17th with an effort of 21:58.84. Junior Emily Schwahn finished 25th, thanks to her 22:23.67, and Danforth was 34th with a mark of 23:03.24.

“The girls were as relaxed and confident as they have been all season,” said PHS head coach Cliff Boos. “They did well in our conference meet against some strong teams, and they believed they could have another strong meet this week. They sure were ready to go when it started, and everyone was able to run well. It was a tremendous effort by all of them.”

Unfortunately for PHS's girls squad, Saturday's cross country meet was the final one for seniors Danforth, Bigelow and Dunleavy. By losing those three, PHS will be without a strong group of runners who have made considerable contributions to the program in recent years. However, Danforth believes a solid group of returning runners will have the Lady Panthers poised for a possible third title in four years next season.

Schwahn, who will be a senior during the 2009 cross country slate, said the key to continued success will be for the Lady Panthers to continue working together like they have this year and in previous seasons. Saturday concluded her third year of running at the varsity level, and she said team unity has been the key to the success enjoyed by the program.

“Everyone is so encouraging all the time,” Schwahn said. “The coaches are always positive and always encouraging us. That carries over to the whole team, and that's one of the big reasons cross country is so much fun. In the three years I've been on the team, there has never been any drama. Everyone gets along great, and everyone does what they can to help each other do the best they can. You can tell that everybody is working hard because they don't want to let each other down.”

Team Results
Class 3A State Meet
1. Powell (57 points)
2. Jackson (83)
3. Glenrock (88)
4. Buffalo (119)
5. Worland (128)
6. Newcastle (164)
7. Lander (170)
8. Douglas (190)
9. Cody (198)
10. Rawlins (223)
11. Torrington (248)
12. Lyman (298)

Individual results for PHS
4. Desiree Murray (20:23.09)
7. Alyssa Rodriguez (21:05.66)
14. Jordan Bigelow (21:49.02)
15. Skye Albert (21:55.50)
17. Lauren Dunleavy (21:58.84)
25. Emily Schwahn (22:23.67)
34. McKenzie Danforth (23:03.24)