Injuries made for a rough start to her season, but in the end perseverance and determination pulled Shannon Wargo through as she qualified to the Division II state cross country meet.
The Keystone sophomore was unable to train for two months over the summer due to issues related to the growth plate in her hip. A bruised metatarsal shut down Wargo for nearly two weeks after she injured it on Aug. 19 in the season opener at the Keystone Icebreaker.
Wargo returned for the Avon Lake Earlybird meet Aug. 31 and never looked back. Ultimately, she qualified for state by placing 14th at last Saturday's Tiffin regional in 19 minutes, 45.22 seconds - a career record by 12 seconds.
"I didn't have the training base from the summer a lot of the other girls had so I had to work harder at practices and in the races, especially if I wanted to qualify to state," Wargo said.
Wargo finished only 47th at the 2012 Tiffin regional in 21:20.51.
"My freshman year in both cross country and track regionals I let my emotions get to me too much," Wargo said. "It kind of drained my energy out. I didn't have that adrenaline flowing any more. It's very important to keep your emotions in check. Experience and positive thoughts from other people were a huge difference."
No doubt, it doesn't hurt to have an ace in her corner such as her dad, Scott, a 1983 Midpark High graduate who was a four-time
All-Ohio performer for the Meteors. He was a three-time state cross country qualifier, placing 36th, fifth and third. Scott also qualified twice to the Division I state track meet for the 1,600, placing fourth as a junior and eighth as a senior.
He was also a first team All-Central Collegiate (1984) honoree at Bowling Green. He was inducted into the Midpark Athletic Hall of Fame in 1993.
"Obviously, you can only see your coach for a certain period of the day," Shannon Wargo said. "My dad and I can have those talks at night before I go to bed, those motivational talks. It really does help. After we talk all the butterflies are gone and all I want to do is go run. It's great to have more than one perspective. I can have my coach's and I can have my dad's."
Shannon is the Keystone girls' first state qualifier since Amanda Winslow finished 10th in 2005 and sixth in '06.
"Our talks are a lot about how she feels and her approach to a race," Scott Wargo said. "We talk about when it starts not feeling as comfortable and she's pushing the pace. What do you do when that happens? What do you think about? Early on, the focus was about going out hard in a race and knowing what that feels like. Then, it's working the middle part hard and pushing that and being mentally strong there.
"We also talk about finishing the race strong. To have a good kick at the end is a little different form and position than during the middle of the race. It's all about racing, strategy, feeling and thinking."
Shannon Wargo started cross country and track in seventh grade. Her athletics career started with soccer at age five, which continued through eighth grade.
"I loved soccer," she said. "I always thought that I would play it in high school because I had played it for so long. It finally came down to one or the other. I couldn't do both and knew I was a lot better at running."
Shannon helped the Keystone girls win their first conference cross country title since 1994 with a win at the Patriot Athletic Conference meet on Oct. 12. A week later, she led the Wildcats to their third straight regional berth with a second-place finish at the Elyria district.
"I never pushed her to run," Scott Wargo said. "I never even brought it up. She brought it up to me. I didn't want to be, 'You should do this because it's great. I did it.' She wanted to run and likes to talk about the running and the strategy. I told her to stop if it's too much. She wants to learn about what it takes to become a better runner, besides the work."
Coach Tom Habenicht has been impressed with his runner's effort and performance level.
"Shannon proved she's part of that next level of runners," he said. "I told her the biggest thing about the state meet is to be excited about it. This is a goal she's worked very hard to accomplish. She accomplished it. If she let's herself to get excited about the race, excited to be there, excited about the possibilities, I think she's going to blow her times away."
"The state meet is a bonus," Shannon Wargo said. "Obviously, I wanted to make it out and I thought I could. You just have to believe in yourself. Otherwise, you probably won't. My mindset is that all these girls are here to push me. They will help make me a better runner. I just try to think very positive like that."
State cross country capsule
WHAT: 85th annual boys and 36th annual girls state cross country meet
WHERE: National Trail Raceway in Hebron
(All races on Saturday)
INDIVIDUALS: Austin Fasciana, sr. (Avon); Tim Villari, sr. (Avon Lake)
START: 3 p.m.
No local teams or individuals
START: 2:15 p.m.
INDIVIDUAL: Tanner Hawley, so. (Black River)
START: 1:30 p.m.
INDIVIDUALS: Megan Parker, so. (Amherst); Alexis Szivan, jr. (Amherst)
START: 12:30 p.m.
INDIVIDUAL: Shannon Wargo, so. (Keystone)
START: 11:45 a.m.
No local teams or individuals
START: 11 a.m.