PREP CROSS COUNTRY: Trio of sisters, Dragons ready for state CC meet
ADRIAN -- It was a fateful day for the Adrian girls' cross country team when Anna Sauer decided to join. Anna wasn't much of a runner at first, having to rest even when running the block. She quickly got used to it, running as much as four miles ...
ADRIAN -- It was a fateful day for the Adrian girls' cross country team when Anna Sauer decided to join.
Anna wasn't much of a runner at first, having to rest even when running the block. She quickly got used to it, running as much as four miles at a time at the end of her first summer racing.
Anna's three younger sisters followed her lead. All three -- Alissa, Megan and Morgan -- are currently among that top seven racers on the team, and all three will compete at the state cross country meet in Northfield on Saturday.
"Anna started it, she's the oldest," Megan Sauer said. "We just followed her."
Mere coincidence or not, ever since the Sauer sisters have showed up on the scene, the Dragons have been a force to be reckoned with.
The team won the Class A state championship four straight years from 2005-2008 before finishing fourth last year.
"We want to try for the podium, first, second or third," Megan Sauer said of the team's goal at this years' state meet. "We just want to keep improving from last year."
There will have been Sauers on the team for more than a decade once all the sisters have graduated, thanks to the way the cross country bug has been passed down through the family.
After Anna started the cross country trend in the Sauer family, Alissa, who is now in 12th grade, made the key move of following in her footsteps.
"Anna was the first one to even consider cross country, then I thought, 'If she could do it, I could do it,'" Alissa Sauer said. "I started doing summer running after I got out of 6th grade. I ran 400 miles that summer. I sort of dragged (Megan and Morgan) into it. They didn't want to run with me the next year, but I made them run. They got better faster because of the summer running."
Morgan, the youngest sister and currently in eighth grade, said that she was excited to join the team after the exposure her sister's had given her to the sport.
"I'd always been watching the cross country meets before I was in it, and I was excited to be in cross country," Morgan Sauer said.
However, Alissa explained that, as with a lot of new runners, it took a little while for the routine to sink in for her younger sisters.
"I still had to drag her down the gravel road," Alissa Sauer said of the early stages of Morgan's career. "Megan was the same way for the first couple of weeks, when it was hard to run. They were pretty defiant. After a while they just sort of got used to it and ran with me. Then ahead of me, but that's a whole different story."
Indeed, it appears that the racing gene has become stronger as it has been passed down the family.
Alissa explained the usual race-day pattern for the three sisters.
"We just try to stay as close as possible," Alissa Sauer said. "Megan does her thing up front, Morgan chases after her, and I just try to stay up there. It's sort of like a family competition."
At last Thursday's sectional meet in Adrian, all three placed in the top 37 in the 104-person field. Morgan place 15th, and Megan, a 10th-grader, paced the team with a fourth-place finish, helping Adrian win the team competition by 46 points to easily qualify for state.
However, the sisters insist that they don't compete against each other when it comes to races.
"The only times we compete is during fun runs," Alissa Sauer said. "We try to stay with each other, and at the end we try to sprint past each other to make it exciting."
This will be the last time that a total of three Sauer sisters will compete in the state championships.
"I don't know where we'd all be without it," Alissa Sauer said. "If Anna didn't go out for cross country, just think of where the Adrian team would be, with only sort of half of it."
Two years ago, all four were on the team together, though Morgan was too young for the varsity team. The younger three all raced together at state last year, but now Alissa is racing in them for the final time.
Alissa, who has has been the No. 6 runner on the team this year, is hoping to break the 17-minute mark in her last race, something she has done in the past, but not yet this season.
Morgan set the modest goal of beating her time from sections and her time from last year state meet, and Megan, who ran a personal best in sectionals, likewise has the modest goal of beating her time from last year.
The Sauer presence at the state meet will likely last another four years with Morgan, but fewer runners are turning out for the team as the Sauers keep graduating.
Alissa explained that the team used to have around 30 runners, but in recent years it has been hard attracting new runners.
"I guess when you set the standards really high, having a girls' team that wins state all the time and a guys' team that participates in state as well, they think that they need to be amazing to be a part of this sport," Alissa Sauer said. "It's more that you gradually speed up and build your endurance the longer you're in the sport. Some people in our school think it's too hard, or that the bar is set too high."
So what do the Sauers tell people who think joining the team would be too difficult?
"We tell them about our sister Anna, who when she first started cross country she could only run half a block and had to stop," Morgan Sauer said.
The current Adrian team won't have to worry about replacements in the immediate future, however. The six non-Sauer members of the team, which also includes a pair of sisters, includes two juniors, two sophomores and a freshman.
Austyn Thier, Jordin Kopplow, Nicole Slater and Hunter Hieronimus will round out the state championship squad, with Natasha Slater and Elissa Thier the team's alternates.
Kopplow, who is ranked 12th in the state, tied with Luverne's Makayla Hohn and Hills-Beaver Creek/Ellsworth's Whitney Wilgenburg as the top-ranked area runners, knows that any of the team's top runners are capable of achieving all-state honors at Saturday's meet.
"It would be nice to get all-state," Kopplow said. "I'm sure all of us top-five runners, that's our goal. We all have the capability.
"We just all wish good luck to the other runners around here, too."
What has made the Dragons such a powerful team is the ability for them to rely on different runners leading the way every week.
"Our order is always changing, we never have a set order, and we like that," Austyn Thier said. "We always push each other to go faster, and it always helps when you know that your team is right there pushing you on, helping you to go faster in the race.
"We've all built bonds with each other throughout the years. We know what each person is capable of doing. It's always nice to know you can count on your team, you know they're going to do their best, and they won't do anything less."
There also may be a little magic in the team.
The girls have picked up the motto "We have the magic in us" for the season, based on the song 'Magic' by B.o.B.
Whether the secret to the team's success is its Sauer power, its tight team bond, or maybe a little bit of magic, look for the Dragons to pose their usual podium threat on Saturday.
No matter what, the Dragons will be giving it their best, based on another slogan the team lives by: "To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift."
The team hopes that the sport of cross country is a gift that each successive generation of Adrian high schoolers holds onto, even when the current lineup runs out of sisters to pass the reigns onto.