After enjoying such an impressive freshman season, Allie Dalton had high hopes for more than just herself this fall.
That goes double for Greenwood Community High School cross-country coach Debbie Guckenberger.
Last year, Dalton established herself as one of the area’s top runners, proving so with a first-place finish in the sectional and runner-up effort in the regional round.
Moreover, and to Guckenberger’s delight, the Woodmen as a team were setting themselves up nicely for a memorable 2014 season.
To wit, the Greenwood girls placed second at the 10-team Franklin Sectional, then took third among 10 schools in the regional race at Greensburg, and were 12th among 20 teams in the ultra-competitive Carmel Semistate.
But much to the disappointment of Dalton and her coach, three key members of the Woodmen decided to quit the team just days before the team’s season-opening meet.
“I think this would have been the best team in school history,” Guckenberger said wistfully.
But the show must go on, as the saying goes. Younger runners will get to compete as varsity entrants but have to grow up in a hurry.
Greenwood got a good start a week ago in its first meet, lifting its spirits considerably by finishing second among eight full teams in the Blue River Early Bird Invitational in Shelbyville.
Dalton, the top finishing individual, just wants to continue to take care of business.
Sophomore jinx in 2014? Perish the thought. Maybe finding herself on a suddenly smaller and less deep team (unfortunately) satisfied the J-word.
“I’m focusing on still trying to help make the team better,” Dalton said. “It’s unfortunate that they quit the team, but it’s important that the team still achieve the goals I’ve had in mind.
“We still have a lot of talent and we can still perform well.”
Dalton practices and competes with a competitive fire that belies a young woman so soft-spoken and easy-going.
The sophomore is not as good at getting in people’s faces as she is at having opposing runners trying to catch up to her in five-kilometer footraces.
And she knows that.
“I’m not very vocal; I’m not one to speak out,” Dalton said. “I try to lead by example when I work. I try to make the others follow that.”
Both Dalton and her coach credit senior teammate Kayla Atkins for picking up a good amount of the team leader slack.
“Kayla is a lot more vocal,” Guckenberger said. “She’s very upbeat and enthusiastic. She’s not going to be a top runner, but she lightens the mood of the team.”
Dalton is especially glad to be a sophomore. She learned a great deal last year, knowing now what to expect on the variations of grassy courses in the fall and running tracks in the spring.
Cross-country, if you’re wondering, is her first love.
“It (competing last year) makes me a lot more comfortable,” she said. “I know I’ve done it once, and I know I can do it again.
“And it helps me set goals. I want to do better.”
The second oldest daughter of Greenwood High School alums Chad and Amanda Dalton — in a family of two boys and four girls — Dalton posted quite a freshman season, especially considering she had to nurse a stress fracture in her foot during the preceding summer.
She won first place in the Franklin Sectional handily, almost 26 seconds better than the next best finisher’s clocking.
Dalton then placed second to senior and defending regional champion Sarah Billingsley of Oldenberg Academy in the regional by a margin of six seconds, but improved upon her own school record with a mark of 18:13, trimming almost 40 seconds from her sectional meet time.
She then took fifth in the Carmel Semistate at 18:17.6 and ultimately finished 10th in the State Meet in Terre Haute at 18:23.7. Her top-10 finish was especially impressive since three other semistates fed into the state meet.
Running in track and field gave Dalton a similar sense of been there, done that.
That included one unexpected, but very real issue when she made it to the IHSAA State Finals at Indiana University in the spring.
“At the state meet, I was really, really nervous,” she noted with a smile. “The only thing I could think of was where am I going to spit? I didn’t want to spit on someone because I get a lot of mucous.”
Fortunately, the highlight of her 3,200-meter run final was a seventh-place finish and team points scored.