Girls cross country makes program history

For the first time in school history, the girls cross country team won state. Led by Isabella Lozier, sophomore, who crossed the finish line in fourth place, the team won by 41 points. 

As a point of reference, nine points separated the top two teams of last year’s race. 

courtesy Lily Hudson
The girls huddle together after the state meet. Team bonding aided the team’s efforts this year.

Sitting around a campfire on the annual girls cross country camping trip in August, the team first expressed their desire to win state. This feat had always been in the back of the girls’ minds, but it had never been spoken aloud as an attainable goal. 

“[This was] our main goal, and this was the first time we’ve sort of said this out loud, but we did want to win state,” Lozier said. “We didn’t really know at the time how possible that goal was, but we did say it, that we did want to win state.”

This new, ambitious goal pushed the team to give their all throughout the entire season.

“I would say the season was different from last year just because we did have such a big goal, that we didn’t let anything stand in our way,” said Annika Elliott, sophomore. “We realized what we truly could accomplish, and we realized how strong we all were as a group of girls.”

We realized what we truly could accomplish, and we realized how strong we all were as a group of girls.

— Annika Elliott, sophomore

With such a large goal, it’s often difficult to determine if you’re on track or not to accomplish it. But for the girls, there were some signs along the way. 

“Winning our Griak title at the Roy Griak Invitational as a team was an amazing moment,” said Sarah Kopplin, varsity head coach. “I think for the team it sort of crystallized to them that it’s possible to achieve goals they have later in the season at state.”

courtesy Lily Hudson
Addie Kemp, junior, and Grace Optekar, sophomore, warm up. The team’s hard work paid off this season.

For the team, the season could not have gone much better than it did. 

“It really exceeded my expectations, which were high to begin with,” said Felicity Hade, senior and captain. “As a team, we really just knocked it out of the park. At the beginning of the season, winning state was seen as a really ambitious goal, because it’s something our team had never done before … Not only did we win, but we won by a significant margin.”

This season, particularly winning state, is something that the team will remember for a long time. 

“I will always remember two moments that kind of go with each other,” Elliott said. “Just in the beginning of the season, you know when we were sitting around the campfire and we were like, ‘Let’s win state’ and then … I’ll never forget watching the big board at state count down all the other teams and then get to Shorewood that said that we got … first place. And just the whole, everyone screaming and crying of joy. It was a really good experience. I’ll never ever forget that.”

Looking to the future, the team will only lose one graduating varsity senior, so it is completely plausible that they will experience similar success in the seasons to come. But there will be bumps in the road, beginning with a new coach, who has yet to be determined, for the upcoming season. 

courtesy Lily Hudson
The team stands on the state podium. This was the first win in program history.

Kopplin retires from coaching after 19 years

Sarah Kopplin, who has coached the girls cross country team for over a decade and a half, announced she is stepping down, and passing on her position to someone new. 

“I have retired from coaching. I coached for 19 years, 37 season, and 16 seasons with this team as head coach,” Kopplin said.

This news was announced to the team after the season’s conclusion, and came as a bit of a shock to everyone. 

“None of us were really expecting it, so at first everyone was kind of really quiet and then everyone started crying, and it got really sad,” Elliott said.

The decision was not an easy one to make for Kopplin, but she feels justified in it.

courtesy Lily Hudson
Sarah Kopplin, head varsity coach, hugs an assistant coach. This season was Kopplin’s last with the team.

“Last spring I was elected to the Wisconsin Council Social Studies Board of Directors, and I’m chairing a committee that is focused on advocacy for social studies education in the state of Wisconsin,” Kopplin said. “ So I needed to make a decision: what do I want to do with my life professionally and what do I want to spend my time doing?” Kopplin said. “It was a hard decision, but I feel like I’ve really accomplished a lot with this program, being able to build the program here. I really am going to miss the girls. But I feel really good about where things are and I really enjoyed my time being a coach. And it was hard to move on, but it’s the right time.”

While Kopplin will remain at the intermediate school, well within contact distance of the girls, she wants to ensure that whoever takes her position has room to take charge.

“I’m sure that I’ll hear from these girls just like I do other alumni, but I definitely want to help make space for the next head coach to be able to take over the program and continue to build off of what we have,” Kopplin said.

The team hopes that whoever steps up to fill the vacant position will be up for the challenge. 

“I just hope that whoever comes in is ready to take on this big team, because now we have so much talent that it’ll be interesting to see who comes up,” Elliott said. 

Kopplin agrees. She recognizes that it is a time consuming effort and the payoff doesn’t come in the form of cash.

You have to really want to spend the time helping to build confidence in young women and help them feel like they have a supportive environment.

— Sarah Kopplin, varsity head coach

“I personally think you have to have a strong sense of commitment to do something like this,” Kopplin said. “You don’t get paid a lot of money, that’s not why you do it. I think you have to really want to spend the time helping to build confidence in young women and help them feel like they have a supportive environment to learn how to push their limits, learn how to build confidence for other people, learn how to put themselves in positions where they can take positive risks.”

While many of the girls will miss Kopplin, they are confident that they can carry on the efforts she set forth.

“The thing about it is, no matter who the coach is, we have such a strong team bond, and we’re going to have some really great leadership next year from everyone, but especially the incoming seniors,” Lozier said. “I think we’ll be able to carry through that strong team bond and the positive energy.”

The team bond, something Kopplin made an effort to establish in the program, is something that the girls will strive to maintain, regardless of who the next coach is.

“My hope is that the program kind of stays the same as it’s always been as far as everyone being together,” Elliott said. “I hope our culture never dies out.”