Denise Benson said it; then Lady Lex did it.
Before the season started, the Lexington girls cross country coach felt her team could finish on the podium in the last meet of the season. Saturday afternoon at National Trail Raceway, those girls set out to prove her right.
"We all had our individual goals, but we all did this for our team," three-time Lady Lex senior All-Ohioan Ellen Isaac said.
The team saved its best for last, peaking at the state cross country championships. While Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary won the Division II title for the fourth straight year, Lexington was in its shadow, pushing the Irish. SV-SM won with 53 points, but Lady Lex was right behind with 74 points. Third-place Kettering Alter ended with 158 points, while Poland Seminary was fourth with 194 and Crestwood fifth with 198.
"Honestly that was 100 percent for us today. I don't think one girl had any more than that. How often do you put it all together in one day?" Benson said. "To me they are state champions."
They certainly ran like champions.
Issac put behind last year's disappointing 41st place in 19:47 to finish third overall with a time of 18:22. Junior Lillian Freundlich earned an All-Ohio podium spot as well, getting 13th in 18:45, while senior Elizabeth Volz picked up a third All-Ohio honor for the team, getting the 25th in a time of 19:13. She had to run by five girls to get that final All-Ohio spot in the last couple hundred meters.
"It was right there; I had to go," Volz said. "As a senior, you know it's your last race. I got All-Ohio and an all-time (personal record) by a lot, and we got second. It's the perfect end of a career."
Right behind Volz was Dominque Clairmont who set the school's freshman record with a clocking of 19:22 for 33rd. The anchor proved to be Susan Fain. The junior who fought a cold and cough all week with antibiotics rose to the challenge despite her health and finished 54th in 19:48, the first time she's ever broken 20 minutes. Rounding it out for Lady Lex were senior Susie Sorah in 20:55 for 120th and freshman Abby Miller in 20:55 for 121st.
"My team -- that's what drove us," Fain said. "We ran for the team today. I love everyone on this team. It was tough, but I always say even if I don't believe in myself, I have to believe in my coach. She said we could do it."
Benson made that claim before the season started. She felt this group was better than the one that finished as state runners-up as a Cinderella story in 2010.
"You could get a feel for their chemistry, for their passion and for their abilities," Benson said of her bold pledge.
"It was exciting two years ago, but I think this year we knew what we could do and we went after it as a team. We were so strong," said Volz, the No. 5 runner in 2010 who turned a 20:30 at state that season.
Lexington was ranked in the top five in the state coaches poll most of the season and finished second behind the Irish.
"When you're moving up (the rankings), it feels good, but when you're there, it's like, 'Oh heck, I have to keep it there.' It's really hard to hold that spot when there's a target on your back, but they did it and did it with class. They rose to the pressure," Benson said.
The only other team from the area was the Mount Gilead girls who finished 13th in Division III. Senior Raychel Gress led the Indians in their fluorescent green togs, finishing 61st in 19:58. Sophomores' Bryanna Bolha and Rachel Bush were 80th and 81st in 20:26, while freshman Jenna Shipman was 90th in 20:41. Junior Taryn Chapman was 109th in 21:23, sophomore Makenzie McKirgan 112th in 21:29, and senior Sophia Friesen 127th in 22:10.
As for Lady Lex, it was a great day to have a celebration on the podium in front of the fans in the main grandstand.
"It was a perfect race, and it's been a perfect day," Benson said. "I'm so proud to be their coach."