Oct. 27—It wasn't that long ago, the Saint John cross country team had just individuals compete.
But, the narrative has changed this season.
Not only are the Heralds scoring in the team standings, Saint John is making an impression.
The girls team features three sophomores and three freshmen.
The Heralds advanced to the Division III regional meet on Saturday at Boardman High School.
Saint John actually started the process last year.
"Our middle school program was really, really good last year," coach Jeremy Dunn said.
Those young runners have elevated their performances this season.
"The kids love our two coaches, Caitlynn Dunn, and Kelly Fuhrmann," Dunn said. "They are a great support system for not only the cross country athletes, but for any student they teach or have taught or come in contact with. They are the glue to the team in regards of team camaraderie and support."
During the D-III district meet at Madison last Saturday, the Heralds placed fourth with a score of 114. Maplewood won with a score of 41, followed by McDonald at 58 and Kirtland with 89.
Freshmen Emma Phillips finished second overall in a time of 19:20.44. Classmate Emma Call was 23rd in a 21:31.29, followed by sophomore Malena Gottwig, 27th, 21:44.44; sophomore Stellaluna Madrigal, 37th, 22:35.44; freshman Marlee Beacom, 39th, 22:47.05 and sophomore Sofia Park, 60th, 24:29.25.
"We have three sophomores and three freshmen," Dunn said. "Emma Phillips and Emma Call have been our top two runners, and Marlee Beacom is just getting back into the mix after being injured for most of the season. Malena Gottwig, Sofia Park and Stellaluna Madrigal have all significantly improved.
"They all have been working hard since the beginning of summer and it paid off when we needed it the most with Malena and Stella each running PRs of at least 30 seconds."
Phillips has finished in the top-10 consistently all season, including first place in the girls race during the Ashtabula County meet at the end of September, and second in the War on the Shore in late August.
"She's naturally gifted, but her work ethic and dedication is pretty special," Dunn said.
Before the season started, Dunn mapped out the Heralds course to a regional appearance.
"We made it our goal," Dunn said. "We started to focus on Garfield, Pymatuning Valley and Cardinal and went to work."
While the Saint John boys team didn't have enough runners for a full team at the district, the Heralds placed fifth at the all-county meet and seventh at War on the Shore in the team standings this season.
Sophomore Thomas West led Saint John in a time of 18:14.42 for 19th place.
Freshmen Jaylin Streit finished 40th in 19:11.20; Daniel Phillips, 45th, 19:19.23 and Ayden Kelley, 48th, 19:28.60.
"We have four freshmen and one sophomore," Dunn said. "We were down one at the district, but they all ran fantastic. They exceeded my expectations."
As far as the Heralds girls team goes, Dunn said the goal was to reach the regional tournament.
"We wanted them to get some experience," he said. "We have the seventh fastest time going into the regional."
There's certainly a chance for individuals, like Phillips, to reach state.
The top four teams and 16 individuals advance to the state tournament Nov. 4 at Fortress Obetz and Memorial Park in the Columbus area.
But regardless of what happens on Saturday, Dunn sees good things on the horizon.
"The program should continue to grow," he said. "We have two teachers coaching that the kids love. As long as we continue to encourage the running culture and the family aspect the team provides, we should continue to build the program. This could be the start of something special."