Since its inception in the fall of 2002, Ravenwood's girls cross country team has won four Division I AAA/Large School state championships (2011, 2012, 2016, 2017), more than any other school in that same time period. Still, the team seems to fly under the radar and is often overlooked by local and state media. With all time greats Annika Sleenhof and Jamie Blaylock moving on to compete for Furman and Western Carolina, respectively, Coach Mueller understands the distinct challenges that the 2018 squad faces and why some might not consider them an elite team heading into the 2018 season.
"This season feels a little like our 2012 and 2013 seasons. After winning our first title in 2011, we lost four of our top seven runners, but were able to win it all again in 2012. In 2013, we were a little short on leadership and depth and we weren't able to capture that elusive third straight state championship. We have so many unknowns right now that this team could go either way, but that's the fun part - the season will be a journey full of twists and turns, and the girls will hopefully learn a lot about themselves, grow closer to each other, and run faster along the way."
On paper, the team returns three seniors who have all broken 20:00 for 5K - Alex Rosen, Olivia Derr, and Elise Strevell. Junior Msgana Araya was the #5 runner on last year's championship team and sophomore Bella Sleenhof was the first alternate. Those five will be joined by newcomers Kiara Carter and Nicole Caruso in the varsity race at the Voyles Classic this weekend. The JV team should also be strong with seniors Ella Rhoades, Kiley Hannon, Maddie Mixon, juniors Sabrina Zahrir, Elise Akridge, and freshman Taylor Grissom, Charlene Huang, Katie Jensen, Ellie Long, Saraia McGhee, and Karina Sheth.
The seniors are particularly excited as they prepare for their last season of high school cross country. "I'm excited for all the bus rides and team dinners the night before the races. They are so much fun because the whole team gets to bond and spend time together. I'm also excited for all the rap battles on the bus ride," says Ella Rhoades. Elise Strevell chimes in, "I'm most excited for the bus rides to the meets and running the course the night before out of town meets. I love listening to music on those runs and hanging around with the team." Maddie Mixon is "excited to spend time with the team and run at the fun away meets!"
Alex Rosen, All State and All MSCCA last fall and the presumptive #1 runner in 2018, provides this analysis of the upcoming campaign: "This season the team has been working very hard. Despite many injuries and uncertainties, our team has so much potential. I'm very excited to see what this season has in store." Lauren Shepard says simply, "I'm excited to spend time and train with a group of people that always have my back!"
Coach Mueller has never been one to make predictions, but he also never underestimates his athletes. "Back in 2012, a reporter from the Tennessean called me two nights before the state meet to ask about our chances. I told him I thought we would be in the mix. In the next day's story he didn't list us as a contender, and we went on to win the meet by 59 points. Our quote on that year's t-shirt was from Bill Bowerman, the former Oregon coach and Nike co-founder: 'Never underestimate yourself.' That's great advice for athletes but also good advice for life in general."
The Voyles Classic is Saturday, August 25, at the Hermitage. Varsity girls race at 8:00 AM and JV girls follow at 9:20 AM.