Since the sixth grade, the Doniphan West girls cross country team have pushed themselves beyond their limits.
“We wake up at 6 a.m.,” freshman Chloe Clevenger said. “It started to get our bodies into that mentality that we can race at earlier times on Saturdays, and I think that was a big thing for us because most teams don’t practice at 6 a.m.”
Those early hours of running on dirt and gravel eventually led to the Lady Mustangs bringing home the first state title for any sport in school history Saturday at Wamego Country Club.
Since her first season as the cross country coach in 2017, Gina Clevenger, mother of Chole, knew this team had the potential to be special.
“We started working with this group in sixth grade because we didn’t really have a team at the high school level,” Clevenger said. “We’ve been thinking since junior high this was a special group.”
One of the most inspiring stories on the day for Doniphan West was when Clevenger was able to fight her way back after fall down early in the race originally leaving her at fifty-fifth place.
“That whole race I thought “Oh my god I might have lost this for our whole team’,” Clevenger said. “I was in so much pain the whole race but I kept telling myself I have to be there for my team.”
Clevenger was eventually able to push through the pain and end the race in eleventh place with a time of twenty-one minutes and twenty-nine seconds, which went a long way in the Mustangs bringing the title home.
Sophomore Elle Williams led the Mustangs on the day with a fourth place finish from a time of twenty minutes and thirty-two seconds.
Claire Cole finished with a time of twenty-one minutes and forty-two seconds, Lilly Clark had a time of twenty-five minutes and twelve seconds, Emma Albers had a time of twenty-five minutes and fifty seconds and Aly Gobin ran a time of twenty-six minutes and ten seconds.
The youth of the Mustangs is arguably the most impressive aspect of their championship run this season.
The team is completely made up of nothing but freshmen and sophomores.
“It’s one of those things where you almost don’t want to believe it’s real because you don’t want to jinx it,” Clevenger said. “It’s so exciting to know we have two more years with this exact group.”
Coach Clevenger is originally a Michigan native where cross country is much more recognized and celebrated as opposed to Kansas.
“Out here it just kind of sits in the backdrop and nobody really notices it too much, Clevenger said. “So to come here and create that kind of culture is pretty big.”
Clevenger said her mother has pushed the entire team to go above and beyond the limits they had originally put themselves.
“After race days she puts us through longer runs that have a faster tempo,” Clevenger said. “We hate it but it definitely trains our body to go that extra mile after our race. So she’s trained us to go farther than we think we can push our limits.”