Every cross country season brings at least one big surprise in the early months.
That's been no different in 2018.
The makings of a very good Boise Senior (ID) High School girls team has been in the works for some time now, but this fall the geyser finally blew.
The Braves scored a massive win on home turf at the Bob Firman Invitational on Sept. 22 against then-No. 3 Great Oak and No. 17 North Central before following with another national-class win at the Desert Twilight Invitational in Arizona--and clipping off then-No. 11 Niwot--the following weekend.
Success has seemed to come in a hurry for third year head coach Aaron Olswanger.
"I had an idea that we could fare pretty well on the team side of things," said Olswanger, who's an AP World History teacher at Boise Senior with roughly 14 years experience coaching cross country. "The workouts have been progressing phenomenally and we're keeping things together. But to beat some of the top teams in the country (this early), that wasn't our goal."
A year ago, the Braves were fifth at Bob Firman and third at state. They didn't even field a full team at NXR Northwest.
But the way the Boise Senior (ID) High School girls team has been dispatching competition this fall has been a case study in how to capitalize on the rare combination of talent and performance excellence.
The Braves certainly saw their stock rising many months before the season hit. This past spring, senior Maggie Liebich realized the extent of her aptitude, winning state titles in the 800m (2:11.26) and 1600m (4:46.87) as she focused more on training--and perhaps a little less on basketball.
That's without mentioning the continual improvement of senior Eve Jensen, a two-time runner-up at Idaho's Class 5A championships who's been one of Boise Senior's most consistent runners over the last three seasons, and the rise of sophomore Rosina Machu, who's become the team's mid-lineup lynchpin that's ultimately been the difference maker.
Machu's ability to carry a front-pack pace alongside Liebich and Jensen has given Boise Senior three No. 1 talents on the roster.
"We're heading in the right direction," Olswanger said. "They're a tough group of kids. But they're focusing their mindset on the big picture and things we can control."
And yet, there's a difference between having talent and executing on race day. Countless talented teams have fallen before in the face of national-level experience.
The Braves essentially had to prove how good they were.
Olswanger believed Bob Firman was ground zero for making a statement. In prior weeks, in fact, he had worried that media coverage before the meet would potentially take away from the surprise.
Not only were nationally-ranked Great Oak and North Central (WA) entered, but Boise Senior would also face two of Montana's top teams, Bozeman and Hellgate, and Eagle, a perennial state contender in Idaho who had won last year's Class 5A championships.
"In a way, we saw it as a challenge," he said. "We hadn't raced the best teams in Idaho and we hadn't seen Mountain View or Eagle. We wanted to see some competition and wanted to see how we responded."
Olswanger certainly got his answer.
On a tightly-packed course at Eagle Island Park, Liebich and Machu were tied to the hip in the front pack early on, and as the field spread, the team's top three managed to keep close contact and finished in the top 20: Liebich was third (18:01.30), Machu was 14th (18:15.40) and Jensen was 20th (18:28.40).
What was important, though, was how the Braves would displace a deep Great Oak roster. The team's fourth and fifth ultimately won the race for Boise Senior. Smith came through in 34th (18:57.40), while Elliott wasn't far behind in 38th (19:00.60), helping put all five scorers at 19-minutes or faster. The result was a 8-point win over Great Oak.
"We knew we were healthy and were going to come out firing," Olswanger said.
When Boise Senior scored another big win a week later--straight up dominating with 87 points--its confidence hit an all-time high. The team entered the the top 10 in the national rankings at No. 7 on the MileSplit50.
|1||Boise Senior High School (ID)||278|
|1) Maggie Liebich||17:26.90||13|
|2) Rosina Machu||17:48.10||31|
|3) Eve Jensen||17:55.40||44|
|4) Molly Elliott||18:14.50||78|
|5) Mikella Tobin||18:23.10||112|
|Average Time: 17:57.60 Total Time: 1:29:48.00 1-5 Split: 56.20|
|6) Logan Smith||18:35.70||173|
|7) Mary Kate Bender||19:28.20||657|
"Rankings don't faze them," Olswanger said. "We don't have conversations about it at practice. We're focused on developing from day to day and doing the right things. They know how good they are, we're just honored to be recognized among other teams and having a great season."
Boise Senior's statement was just that, though.
It will mean little if the Braves can't execute at the Idaho State Championships, or make a run for Nike Cross Nationals.
And this year's NXR Northwest field will be as talented as ever: No. 8 Summit (WA), No. 9 Jesuit (OR), No. 17 North Central (WA), Bozeman (MT), Helgate (MT), Eagle (ID) and Mountain View (ID).
Boise Senior knows nothing is guaranteed, but the team is understanding how to win and how to perform against the best squads in the country.
"They don't like losing," Olswanger said. "They'll give everything they have on the day, which is what I love. You know they're going to show up."
Next up then? Districts on Oct. 19.
By then the surprise will be gone, but the Braves could always make another statement.
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Contact MileSplit National Producer Cory Mull at email@example.com or on Twitter @bycorymull