‘Knock, knock’: SM North girls cross-country team breaks through the door with school’s first state championship

Photo via SM North on Twitter.
Photo via SM North on Twitter.

Head coach Aaron Davidson could see the talent his core group of SM North cross country runners had back when they were freshman and sophomores in 2015.

That year, the team found itself on the podium in the state 6A meet for the first time in school history, taking third place — but missing the title itself by a single point. Last year, with a season of experience under their soles, they were poised to make another run at the title. But top-runner Katie Kasunic pushed herself so hard in the state meet that she collapsed 50 meters from the finish line. The Indians had to settle for second place.

[pullquote]

SM North XC state results

• Katie Kasunic, 4th, 18:59.94
• Cassie Raines, 11th, 19:16.68
• Keagen Stiers, 19th, 19:47.60
• Caroline Colburn, 26th, 20:10.61
• Molly Ryan, 28th, 20:10.61
• Abigail Onnen, 36th, 20:19.70
• Cassandra Davis, 37th, 20:20.60[/pullquote]

This year, the senior season for five of the girls who had been part of that groundbreaking 2015 campaign, Davidson knew his team had another shot. He also knew that Blue Valley North’s team had been running really well all year.

“All season long, we kind of felt like we were catching up to Blue Valley North,” Davidson said. “We were always able to be relaxed this year because we felt like we were the ones who were chasing them.”

Still, as the season progressed, the prospect of landing that elusive first state title was always in the background.

“We never really considered ourselves the favorite, but we kind of had this inside joke that we keep knocking at the door, and if we keep knocking, eventually it will happen,” Davidson said. “When we say ‘knock, knock’ to each other, we know what we’re talking about.”

On Saturday, that door the girls had been knocking on for the past two years opened.

Junior Katie Kasunic bounced back from last year’s state meet disappointment to run one of her best races of the year, taking fifth place in the individual standings among 105 runners. With top 20 finished from teammates senior Cassie Raines (11th), and sophomore Keagen Stiers (19th), the Indians had a strong showing at the top of their pack. They were followed by Caroline Colburn and Molly Ryan, who finished 26th and 28th individually, to round out the team’s scoring. But Davidson said it was gutsy performances from the teams sixth and seventh members, whose scores are not included in the final team tally, that put SM North over the edge. Junior Abigail Onnen and senior Cassandra Davis finished in 36th and 37th place, behind the top five SM North runners, but ahead of the fifth best runner on a number of competitive teams.

“We knew that our depth was one of our strengths, because you’re done scoring, but your sixth and sevenths runners are pushing other teams down, increasing their scores,” Davidson said.

It was fifteen minutes after the race was over that Davidson found out his team had taken the title. He and principal Dave Tappan hugged and celebrated. After 10 years at SM North and four as the head coach, Davidson couldn’t have been more thrilled to see his team take the state’s top prize.

“I got pretty emotional and had to take my time before I could get over to the tent to tell the team,” he said.

But, when he went to break the good news, the were nowhere to be found.

“We really stress that it’s important to go cool down and get back to base level,” he said. “They were all out recovering from the race.”

Davidson was okay with waiting a bit to deliver the good news.

“Have you guys heard?” he told the team. “You’re state champions”

The boys team had a notable campaign as well, taking fourth place overall in Saturday’s team competition.