Every girls team in the Division II championship meet Saturday at Scioto Downs in Columbus will have their sights set on the Falcons, the No. 1 ranked team in the state.
"I'm sure people will be seeking us out," said Field coach Bill Huntington. "It's a lot easier to sneak up on people than it is to come in as a favorite."
That's what Field did last year when they surprised everyone, including themselves to win both the boys and girls state championships.
But in a shocking disappointment, the Falcon boys failed to qualify for state this year, finishing fourth at last week's Boardman regional meet. The Field girls finished first to solidify their No. 1 ranking.
"I think the guys losing puts the realistic idea into the girls heads that they are not invincible," said Huntington. "I don't think they ever really thought they were invincible. But no matter what they thought, they know they have to run a little bit scared. The state of Ohio is too good a state for high school cross country not to run scared. There are so many good programs and it is hard to go down to Columbus and win back-to-back (titles)."
But the Falcons know they are in as good a position as any team of the past to win two straight.
Emily Mars finished first at the regional in 19:27.8, and is among the favorites to finish at the top of the state meet.
"I think Emily can win," said Huntington. "There is a girl from Conneaut named Stephanie Anderson who beat her last year at state. She and Emily finished three-four last year as sophomores, and they are both back now as juniors. The girls who finished in front of them have graduated, but there is always something new down at state. Emily can run 18:20. That might not be her time if it's windy or the course is slow, but she can run that kind of effort."
A key for Field will be the health of Heather Patch, who finished ninth at the regional.
"There is concern over Heather's leg," said Huntington. "She could have a stress fracture. She ran a 20:08 last week which was a top-10 time and fairly close to her best effort, and said that the leg didn't bother her. But Sunday it started to swell and Monday she was gimping around school. If we don't have Heather, we really don't have a chance."
The Falcons will have another top-10 regional runner at full strength, however, in Kathy Shell, who finished just two-tenths of a second ahead of Patch in eighth place.
Huntington is hoping the entire Field lineup, which includes junior Shell and sophomores Dee Cramer and Dawn Hollis, can answer last year's state championship performance, when the entire Field team ran its best times of the year.
"What we need is for everybody to step up and do what they did last year," said Huntington. "The top six girls all averaged 25 seconds faster at the state meet. I think a little bit of that was knowing they had a shot to win."
Field's top competition will likely come from Pemberville Eastwood, Marlington, Salem (3rd last year at state), Beaumont and Circleville.
The Falcon boys will be represented by Mike Hall, who qualified as an individual last week with a 10th-place finish in 17:03.5.
Hall, a senior who is finishing his first year as a full-time cross country runner, will be joined in the boys Division II race by a pair of Portage County League rivals, Mike Nelson of Southeast and Eric Berg of Crestwood.
Nelson finished seventh at Boardman in 16:57.7 to earn his fourth consecutive trip to the state meet. Berg qualified with a 12th-place finish at the Lorain Community College regional.
Kevin Tscholl of St. Thomas Aquinas finished 13th at Boardman to advance to Columbus.
Southeast sophomore Susan Graves will have a chance to improve on her 22nd-place finish at last year's state meet when she ran a 19:30. Graves qualified for her second state meet by finishing 12th at Boardman in 20:11.7.