KENNETT SQUARE -- It has been a year unlike any other for the Unionville girls cross country team. With the season now over and the accomplishments piled high, head coach Mark Lacianca and teammates Courtney Smith and Emily Fisher could look back and smile.
The cross country team remained undefeated throughout the regular season and went on to win States and Regionals and received the first invitation to Nationals in team history.
Heading out the Wednesday before, they packed their bags and flew out to Oregon to compete in Nationals Dec. 7.
“It was everything that we expected, except for the really cold weather in Portland,” Lacianca said. “It really did the sport of cross country the right way.”
And because it’s December in Oregon, there was of course snow on the ground.
“They were actually blowing it off with a leaf blower on Friday,” Lacianca said.
But everything was taken care of in time for the race so that there was no interference from the snow.
The weather may not have had an effect on the runners, but the course itself did as Smith became a victim and fell early on at just the 1,000-meters mark.
“There were hundreds of people in a really tight area and it was a sharp turn,” Smith said. “In the guy’s race, 20 of them went down in the same spot. Next thing I knew, I was on the ground and 20 people had passed me.”
Smith was able to get herself back up and begin moving through the ranks and was able to finish 10th.
The girls finished seventh overall, with Courtney making a comeback from 55th to 10th after the fall.
Lacianca said he was hoping to finish in the top five, but can be very happy with the seventh-place finish, especially because they were only three points from fifth and did it without a completely healthy team.
“We knew we were down to four people who were 100 percent,” Lacianca said. “Emily was having some hip issues and she’s taking some time off now. Our freshman was just tired from the long season.”
The girls may have avoided the bad weather in Oregon, but couldn’t escape it on the return trip when Philadelphia was hit with a snow storm Dec. 8.
“We got off the plane in Phoenix and I had a text about the Eagles game,” Lacianca said. “I’m like, ‘Oh my God.’”
The snow left them stranded in Arizona for almost five hours before they were able to get home in the early hours of Monday morning.
But it’s just another story to add to the memories of the year, which they all have many of.
“Winning States against Pennsbury, who has been our rival for the last couple of years, was our goal for a long time,” Smith said.
Not only that, but it was also huge to knock off seven-time defending Nationals champion Fayetteville Manlius – twice.
“In 2004 we won the State Championship and I thought we were the best team and then [this year] it’s neat to see if come to fruition,” Lacianca said. “The first time you go through anything in life, it’s neat to see something happen you think can happen.
“It was a surreal year. It was a neat thing to go through and say we were No. 1 in the nation at one point and beat all this different teams that won their state championship. It was a great year.”
Now that it is all said and done, it’s time to start looking to the future. Fisher and Smith plan to continue their education and cross country.
Instead of being teammates, they’ll soon be facing each other.
Fisher will be attending the University of Pennsylvania while Smith heads off to Harvard University.
“It will be fun,” Fisher said. “I’ll still be cheering her on.”
They achieved a spot in Nationals for the first time ever, went undefeated up until that point and were named No. 1 in the country, but all of that was nothing compared to the bond the girls made with one another.
“This was Emily’s quote, but I wanted to use it,” Smith said. “I wouldn’t trade the bond for a national championship or anything. It was the journey along the way that was the best part.”