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Norton's Griffith bucks the trend

Published on -10/26/2012, 10:16 AM

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Norton sophomore cross country runner Sierra Griffith has a secret weapon she credits for her success this season, and it comes in a burgundy-colored can.

It's not some form of illegal doping. Griffith drinks Dr. Pepper an hour before every race, and she said she typically drinks three a day, defying conventional long-distance running wisdom.

Many runners swear off pop for the entire season, and though Griffith did that during her freshman year, she kept the habit going from this summer through all of the 2012 cross country season.

Griffith said her coach, George Rossi, found out and told her to slow down, but she claimed it had disastrous effects.

"My coach, Mr. Rossi, had me taper off of pop for a week, and I slowed down and became the third runner and got my worst place," Griffith said.

Griffith kept up the habit ever since, bringing a pop in her lunch box to every meet. However, she said she thinks she's the only one on the team that does it.

"I think it is just me," Griffith said.

Griffith, her soda and the Norton girls' cross country team will make an appearance at the Class 3A state cross country meet on Saturday at Rim Rock Farm near Lawrence, and they hope to make a lasting impression.

The 3A girls' race is at 10:30 a.m.

The Bluejays are one of the favorites to take home a state championship.

Norton finished a distant second last season behind Douglass and won the state title in 2010.

"I think we are going to go and run our hardest," Griffith said. "There's some tough teams we have to compete against."

Norton will face a number of challengers. Rossi said Norton, reigning champion Douglass, regional champion Easton-Pleasant Ridge, Gypsum-Southeast of Saline and Salina-Sacred Heart should be in a tight heat for the title hunt.

"It doesn't take much -- somebody having a bad day or somebody having a good day," Rossi said. "That could swing it all around. We are not the hands-down favorite by any stretch of the word."

The Norton girls don't have a lead runner that will challenge for the individual title. They create their success by their pack running.

The Bluejays' split between their No. 1 and No. 5 runners is typically less than a minute, and at their Class 3A regional at Cimarron, the Bluejays had five runners finish in the top 10, winning the meet with 29 points.

"We really preach (pack running) a lot at practice," Rossi said. "It's been our calling card so far."

Griffith has been their team's lead runner for much of the year, but Norton has multiple runners capable of earning all-state honors.

Last season, Katelyn Engelbert, now a junior, was the Bluejays' top runner, finishing ninth at state in 16 minutes and 37 seconds. Griffith was 15th in 16:57.60, and Julia Kent, now a senior, was 19th in 17:10.80.

The Bluejays returned all three girls and have had strong performances by a number of other girls, including junior Darcy Bainter, freshman Molly Maddy, junior Marissa Maddy and senior Kamilla Jones.

Griffith might have been Norton's biggest surprise this season, as she's consistently led her squad to top finishes all season.

Rossi said as a freshman, Griffith experienced a learning curve and improved drastically by the end of the season.

"This year, she's been very consistent," Rossi said. "We talked about a plan before a race, and so far, she has been able to go out and carry out exactly what we've tried to get her to do."

Though the girls get a lot of the attention, the Norton boys also qualified, placing second at their regional with 64 points -- four points behind regional champion Holcomb. The 3A boys' race is at noon.

Norton junior Marc Miller was the Bluejays' top runner at the regional, finishing fourth.

"They fly under the radar, and the girls get a lot more attention than they do," Rossi said. "But they have been working really hard, and we are very happy that they got to go. Heck, we almost won the regional."

Other 3A qualifiers

Sophomore Wyatt Ratzlaff was Phillipsburg's lone qualifier.

Ratzlaff won the Cimarron regional by eight seconds over Kismet-Southwestern Heights senior Peter Wiebe and Scott City senior Joey Meyer, an all-state runner last season.

This is Ratzlaff's second trip to state after qualifying as a freshman. He finished 39th at state last season in 18:43.

The Thomas More Prep-Marian girls also qualified, finishing third at the Cimarron regional.

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