Franklin girls cross-country coach Regina Schindel admitted that during the Sabers' brutally tough schedule this fall, her young team got down in the dumps once in awhile.
"Because we would get slaughtered by all the best teams out there," she said. "We'd finish 10th here and 12th there. I told the kids, 'Yes, it was a hard schedule, but it will make you the best team in the important races at the end.' "
Meaning the best team in the Southeast Conference meet at Grant Park on Oct. 15, which the Sabers won for the fifth time in six years and for the first since 2014.
The Sabers will try to earn a WIAA state meet berth in the sectional at 10:40 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 22, at UW-Parkside. The top two teams and the first five individuals not on those teams will advance to the state meet in Wisconsin Rapids on Oct. 29
They'll try to build on the positive feelings they earned at conference. It was only after that race that Schindel admitted she had doubts whether the Sabers could win or not.
"If you had asked me a couple of weeks ago, I wouldn't have been really sure," she said, "but my freshmen improved, and that really helped. We also did this without Morgan Trinko (the team's third runner), who we lost to a season-ending injury a few weeks ago.
"She was there to cheer us on and handle splits, but the freshmen stepped up and got to where they needed to be. We looked at this a few weeks ago, comparing times. Oak Creek (the 2015 champion) should have beat us based on that, and Kenosha Indian Trail was really good, too. I knew it was going to be real close among the three of us."
The Sabers, who ran a total of four freshmen on varsity, scored 44 points for their win as Oak Creek was second with 67 and Indian Trail third with 87.
All five scoring runners earned top-16 all-conference honors. Freshman Clare Pitcher led the way, earning third with a time of 19:55 on the 5,000-meter course, while the only senior, Hailey Migliano, was fourth (20:00).
Schindel said Migliano was disappointed she didn't win the individual title (claimed by Racine Horlick's Sydney Pitrof in 19:35) but noted the veteran runner was ecstatic with the team title.
Other scoring runners included freshman Whitney Thomas in ninth (21:07), Jolene Mantoan in 12th (21;22) and freshman Leslie Davis in 16th (21;26). Schindel said she was stunned by Thomas' and Davis' efforts, noting that the youngsters had tremendous races with Davis turning in a 20-second personal best and Thomas dropping an impressive 45 seconds.
Others competing included Meghan Gain in 17th (21:29) and freshman Gabby Calkins in 29th (22;23).
Schindel said good, dry conditions also helped this day.
"We always seemed to have something this year," she said. "Mud, rain. There always seemed to be something."
She was impressed with the teamwork of a group so young.
"The freshmen ran faster, working with each other, and the older girls got out and set a good pace," Schindel said.
Capping off the Sabers' day was a perfect "slam" effort by the junior varsity as it swept the first five spots in the race, led by winner Amanda Wachter, who turned in a personal best.
'That was a real highlight," Schindel said. "This was such a fun day."