The Abington Heights girls cross country team entered the 2012 season on a mission.
Long among the top programs in the Lackawanna League, the Lady Comets wanted to take that final step and be the league's best this year.
That meant beating Class A power Elk Lake, one of the two teams to beat the Lady Comets last year.
Once Abington Heights toppled the Lady Warriors, they were ready to claim the league crown.
"I think the biggest meet of the season was at North Pocono against Elk Lake. The Elk Lake girls team had been unbeaten for a few years. We came close to beating them last year but fell short," Abington Heights cross country head coach Rob Ahrens said. "Our girls ran extremely well against Elk Lake that day and we ended up beating them by a score of 24-32. Tessa [Barrett], Taylor [Ross], and Erin [Jaeger] went 1-2-3 in that meet, which sealed the victory for us. Once we got past the Elk Lake girls I thought we had an extremely good chance of winning the league."
While looking forward to their shot at Elk Lake, the Lady Comets knew other teams would put their aim on Abington Heights for all the success the program has tasted over the years. They couldn't afford any slipups.
"Honestly, this wasn't something that we talked about very much throughout the season," Ahrens said. "We just tried to stay focused on doing our best both in practice and in meets. The girls approached each meet with confidence knowing that if they performed the way they were capable of performing, they would be successful."
Success meant striving for a high level of performance in the face of rising expectations. By going undefeated, the Lady Comets delivered under that internal pressure.
"As a coach I always tend to be somewhat cautious and skeptical about my expectations," Ahrens said. "I knew we had an extremely talented group of girls with tons of potential and that made every day exciting. Winning the league title was certainly one of our goals but I wouldn't say it was my expectation coming into the season."
By getting the runners to perform to their potential, Ahrens got a lot out of his talented girls. If anyone had a bad day, somebody was always available to pick up the slack.
"This year's story was much more about being consistent and patient both in training and racing and fulfilling the potential that we felt we had," Ahrens said. "We were able to stay healthy throughout the dual meets and put together solid performances every week. If one of the girls had an off day, the other girls would take care of business to ensure that we still came away with the victory."
Junior Tessa Barrett was the biggest building block on the foundation of the title team, reliable and consistent.
"Tessa led the team all year long, setting a course record on almost every course she ran," Ahrens said. "It helped to set my mind at ease going into each meet knowing we'd probably come away with a 1 at the top of the scoring."
Backing Barrett were senior Taylor Ross and junior Erin Jaeger, runners good enough to be the top runner on many other schools in the league. Ross won the district title after Barrett suffered an injury in that race while Jaeger ran well enough in the district meet to qualify for the state meet.
"Taylor was one of our senior team captains who overcame some early season injury issues to have an excellent season and post-season," Ahrens said. "Erin ran consistently as our number two or number three runner. She always stepped up when we needed a big performance."
It takes five runners to compile a team score in the regular season, plus two others that can displace opposing runners and the Lady Comets were blessed with superb depth. Seniors Katie McDonald and Jessica McMinn were joined by juniors Jen Burke and Sarah Walsh to provide that depth.
"Katie was our other senior team captain and she did a fantastic job of keeping the team focused and helping them get prepared for races," Ahrens said. "This was Jess's first year running cross country but she picked it up really well and was a great addition for us."
Burke and Walsh have another year to improve on their times, and will join Barrett and Jaeger to give the Lady Comets a strong cast of veterans next year.
"Jen could be a number one or number two runner on a lot of teams. She very quietly and consistently put us in position to win as many meets as we did," Ahrens said. "Sarah was coming back from an injury in the spring. She came on really strong towards the end of the season and was a huge lift for us."
Next year figures to be another strong year for the Lady Comets, who will enter the season riding a 26-meet winning streak.
"We lose three seniors from this year's top seven: Taylor, Katie, and Jess," Ahrens said. "That will be tough to overcome, but we have a group of junior high girls behind them who won the AAA league championship this year. I'm confident they will be able to fill in and we will remain competitive next season."