(Article courtesy of MileSplit Ohio contributor, William Edwards)
It would be difficult for Lexington head coach Denise Benson to ask for a more perfect lineup heading into the 2018 season.
Second, Weaver is joined by three incredibly talented sophomores - Joanna Halfhill, Halle Hamilton and Lily Weeks - as well as fellow senior Ellie Hocker and junior Tessa Gerhardt, all of whom ran on Lexington's state championship team in 2017.
And third, two freshmen in Natalie Dininger and Kaydence Hines have come in and contributed immediately, scoring highly in competitive invitationals and breaking into the team's top five - making the rich even richer.
And the depth of the roster has shown so far this season, with the team winning the Seneca East Tiger Classic, the Granville Invitational, the Tiffin Cross Country Carnival, the Galion Cross Country Invitational and the Malone Invitational. As a result they currently hold the number one ranking for Division II teams in Ohio.
"On the girls side, coming in from last season returning six of the seven, you knew there were big expectations and incredible talent and a couple freshmen coming in with talent," Benson said. "So I think that the season has been very solid and we're right on point as far as figuring out chemistry and getting through a few minor injuries and just preparing for the postseason." "I'm very happy with where the girls are at right now."
The 2018 season could be shaping up very differently, though, had the team's breakout star, Joanna Halfhill, decided to hang up her spikes after her first season. The sophomore suffered from medical issues in 2017 and strongly considered not coming out for the team this year.
"I didn't really want to experience last year all over again in cross country, because I did not have the best year," Halfhill said. "I have a very high level of lactic acid in my body just because my body's built that way - long limbs and a really shirt torso means blood doesn't get oxygenated very fast in me and I also had a lot of fainting episodes and throwing up after races. So it took a lot of courage from me to even want to race this season, but once I committed - coach likes to say that night and day is the difference from last season to this season."
Joanna Halfhill has collected six top 5 finishes in her seven race starts this season.
Halfhill's improvement is indeed obvious. She took home her first high school win at the Tiger Classic in late August and has since added wins at Granville, Galion and Malone. The wins have put her in the conversation with Ohio's elite runners and among the favorites to take home an individual state title this year.
"That was my first career win [at the Tiger Classic], so it made me feel like I can be at the front of the pack during races and I don't need to be afraid of any other competition," she said. "I've gained a lot more confidence this year from last year and it's a way different experience."
Although Halfhill's had explosive success, Weaver remains the team's lifeblood and unifier. She's run in two straight state meets and carries by far the most experience on her team. Having soaked in lessons learned from racing at a high level and behind older teammates over her first three years, she now steps into the program's leadership role as Lexington tries to win their 3rd title in four years.
She'll also be vying for an individual title come Nov. 3rd and will use last year's 14th place finish at states to her advantage.
"Last year was an incredible year of growth for me, I definitely became a different runner and I learned how to run for the team as well as race more competitively than I ever have before," Weaver said. "So definitely this year I still want to get my time down back under 19 and as low as possible, but just having that reminder that it's not just about me and my time, but also running for the team and running as one - you're not by yourself, it's everybody with you and pushing each other."
No team in Division II is as feared right now as Lexington, as the state meet looms just five weeks away. But the team isn't taking anything for granted heading into the postseason.
"Definitely winning last year affects us because we didn't want to come into it with the mindset that we're going to beat everybody because it's not like that," said sophomore Halle Hamilton, who finished 26th at the 2017 state meet. "I mean I know we have a talented team but we still have to put in the work and work for what we get and yeah, we just have to stay focused and be humble even though some of the other teams are coming for us, we just have to keep doing our thing."