Senior Brisa McGrath providing key leadership for M-S' girls' cross-country

Ever since seventh grade, Brisa McGrath knew that cross-country and track were the sports for her.

McGrath never had to question if she should play soccer or run cross-country — a decision that many of her fellow junior high classmates struggled with.

But McGrath didn't even love running. It had to grow on her.

"Some people fall in love with it at first," McGrath said. "I really had to work my way to it. I didn't really like it at first, but I got more into it as I worked at cross-country more.

"I started to like it more once I started making more relationships with teammates. That made it more fun."

The Mahomet-Seymour senior likes her sport now. A lot. And she's really good. Freshman Elizabeth Sims has had a standout season, but McGrath's veteran presence has been key.

Sims won the 52nd annual Normal University High Invite on Tuesday, but McGrath's fourth-place finish was important in helping M-S win with a team score of 28.

"Over the summer, I increased my summer mileage which increased endurance, and during the workouts, having Elizabeth with me helps me a lot," McGrath said. "I don't think it's that weird that she's doing this as a freshman because a lot of times, younger runners are really good."

McGrath is the only senior on the roster, but throughout the offseason, she helped set up group runs to create camaraderie.

"Over the summer, we did a lot of team bonding to know them well," McGrath said. "Our team is close, so it's easy to lead them. We went on a lot of long runs together and did some fun runs, so by the time the season started, we all knew each other really well."

Sims, Olivia Bunting and Emily Bednar have had fantastic seasons as underclassmen, but McGrath has already finished in the top 10 individually in five invitationals this year.

"I was pretty happy," McGrath said. "I'm hoping to keep improving, but I have been happy with what I have been doing. It's really exciting because we've been working really hard at practice and it's fun to see our results pay off."

The M-S boys' cross-country program has set a really high bar with multiple state championships, but the girls' program is very much on the rise thanks to the youngsters. They can use the success of the boys' program to facilitate taking that next jump.

"In the past, it would either be one or the other that's good," McGrath said. "Now, we're both good, and I think it helps us because we see that they really love it, and that makes it more achievable for us."

McGrath finished 24th in the Class 2A state meet last year, but she's gearing up for a push into the top 10. Her experiences at state last year should only help.

"I learned that it's just another meet," McGrath said. "If you can stick with the top runners, you can do well. I think this year I won't be as nervous as I was last year. I know what to expect.

"I was really nervous, but I had my team with me and I tried to do everything normally, and that really helped me do well."

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