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11/7/2013 3:00:00 PM
Whitley Schirmer caps outstanding season with spot in State Finals

Switzerland County freshman Whitley Schirmer has had a tremendous first year running cross country at the high school level.

She finished off that outstanding season on Saturday as she earned the right to participate in the IHSAA Girls Cross Country State Championships, which were held in Terre Haute, Indiana.

She is only the third Switzerland County girl to ever earn a spot in the state finals, joining Amanda Hon and Patience Meyer; but both of those runners ran at the 2.5-mile (four kilometer) distance that was the state standard at that time. Whitley Schirmer qualified at the new state distance of 3.1-miles (five kilometers).

"I was really, really nervous," Whitley Schirmer said of her appearance in the state finals. "I just didn't want to get last. It was pretty exciting."

Saturday's finals brought together 208 of the best cross country runners in the state, competing both as teams and also as individuals. Whitley Schirmer earned her way as an individual, finishing in the top 15 of all runners at the Sectional, Regional, and Semistate levels. Of those runners, only 40 were freshmen, placing Whitley in an elite class of runners who will be competing over the coming three years. Middle school cross country meets are 1.8 miles, so sometimes it can be a transition for runners to move up to the high school distance.

Making matters a little more challenging was that Whitley hadn't seen the state finals course until she arrived on Saturday morning, but got some advice from a mentor.

"When I got there, Coach Gault (middle school cross country coach Larry Gault) walked the course with me, and that helped a lot," Whitley said. "It gave me a feel for the course and what I needed to do."


The journey to the state finals began with the Ohio River Valley Conference meet, which was held at Hanover College.

Whitley Schirmer was the individual winner of the conference meet; setting her up for a good run in the Sectional, which was held on the same course.

"The conference meet was exciting and I was excited to run," she said. "I kind of figured that I was going to do well because I like that course."

In the sectional meet, Whitley finished an impressive fifth overall, but left the Lady Pacer a little disappointed.

"I don't think I ran as well as I could have," she said about the sectional race. "My time was kind of slow, but I ran okay."

The Switzerland County team also placed fifth in the sectional, which earned the entire squad the right to advance to the regional meet.

The regional was held in Brown County, Indiana, and the runners on that day found much different conditions.

"It was wet and nasty, and it was really muddy," Whitley Schirmer said. "It was hard to run through. It was really cold. The course was mainly flat, but there had been a lot of rain, so it was really muddy."

The rain and the mud didn't slow down the freshman phenom, however, as Whitley finished sixth overall. That placing included beating some runners who had finished ahead of her at the sectional, another accomplishment for the Lady Pacer runner.

"I thought I did well," she said of the regional. "My times were faster, I think I ran as well as I could."

The regional ended the team season for Switzerland County, so when Whitley Schirmer ran in the semistate meet, she did so as an individual based on her regional finish.

The semistate was again held in Brown County on the regional course, but this time the conditions were much better.

"It dried up a little," Whitley Schirmer said of the semistate course. "I felt more comfortable running it because I knew the course and what it was going to be like."

The semistate race, which featured the top runners in all of Southern Indiana, saw Whitley earn a 12th place overall finish in a time of 19:19, which placed her with the sixth fastest time for an individual qualifier - and the state finals became a reality.

The semistate race was also a little different, because she was competing by herself.

"I thought that it would make me a little more nervous, but then I got in my box and the other girls started talking to me, and I got more comfortable," Whitley said. "There was a Southwestern girl there, too, and I had run against her and knew her."


Earning a trip to the state finals has its perks, and Whitley Schirmer got a big send off from school on Friday, heading to the finals along with her family.

This past Saturday saw Whitley Schirmer matched up against the state's best cross country runners at the IHSAA State Finals in Terre Haute.

Saturday morning was pretty routine, even with one big race in the afternoon.

"We got up and got packed and went to the course, and I met Mr. Gault and we walked the course to see what it was like," Whitley said. "Then I waited on Mr. Cole (Coach Adam Cole) to get there."

"It was one giant lap, and it had two loops," Whitley said of the State Finals course. "We went up a lot of gradual, little hills, and it was rough."

When it came time to line up for the start of the state meet, were there nervous butterflies?

"I really didn't think about it," she said. "I knew that I didn't want to get boxed in, because there were a lot of people. So when the race started I took off to get away from the crowd, and I think I took off too fast."

Her starting position was off to the side with other individual runners, with the teams that were competing in the middle of the pack.

When the race finished, she finished 100th out of 208 runners with a time of 19:50. As for the freshmen in the race, the Lady Pacer placed 17th out of the 40 first-year runners - quite an outstanding accomplishment.

"I think Whitley should be extremely happy with her season this year. She is one of the hundred best runners in the state, and honestly, she did very little preparation over the summer," head coach Adam Cole said. "I think the sky is the limit, now that she has the confidence and experience from a race of this magnitude. The Pacers' cross country squad is a young team and it will be exciting to continue to watch Whitley and all of the Pacer runners over the next four years.

During the season, Whitley runs between eight and nine miles per week; and says that not only does it pay off on the cross country course, but it also gets her in shape for the upcoming basketball season. She is also an outstanding member of the track team.

"It was a really good experience," Whitley said. "I'm kind of depressed that cross country is over, but I ran up to the very last week."

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