CHICAGO — Oak Park-River Forest had to change its strategy after losing Mary Blankemeier for the year due to a stress fracture in her right foot.
Blankemeier was fifth at the Class 3A state meet last year as a freshman, so she’s a big loss for the Huskies.
Coach Tom Tarrant realized the team had to embrace a new mentality and has been working hard to form a pack.
“We’re not going to have that kid that scores a low number for us like [Olivia Ryan] from Fenwick,” Tarrant said. “She’s always going to score a 1, 2 or 3. So we basically have to have our team beat every other team’s No. 3 runner.”
It’s up to senior Hannah Gorin to make sure her teammates finish in a tight group, no matter their individual styles.
“Some people take it easier at the beginning and some like to go out hard,” Gorin said. “We start with our own race but we always end up in a pack and that’s how we run the race. It’s definitely good motivation.
“In the first race I was starting to slow down but I knew Hallie [Voss] was right behind me and I knew my other teammates were right behind her.”
The circumstances that led her to being OPRF’s top runner caught Gorin by surprise, but she’s willing to take on that responsibility and the leadership.
“I wasn’t expecting this and I’m definitely not used to it,” Gorin said. “Last year we had a lot of good seniors. Now I’m a captain this year and I’m just trying to be a good teammate. I also give a pep talk before each race.”
Gorin was prepared to lead the team, regardless if Blankemeier had returned this season, Tarrant said.
“Hannah is a quiet hard-working leader and she’s always been a leader,” he said. “So Mary going down had nothing to do with Hannah’s leadership. Hannah was a big-time leader for Mary because Mary was a freshman and this is a tough conference to run in for anybody.”
Gorin and the Huskies were in good form Sept. 27 at the Roy Gummerson Invitational at Schiller Woods. Gorin placed fifth in 19:04.9 to lead the Huskies to second place behind Fenwick.
OPRF’s top-five split was 1:28, a time that the Huskies hope to drop as the season progresses.
“It was hard losing our first runner but our team has really recovered and become stronger,” senior Matilda Msall said. “We’ve realized the importance of having a strong pack. That can be more powerful than just one great runner so Hannah has really stepped it up, brought leadership to the team and enforced the philosophy of having a strong pack.”