Group of six has been dominant in track, cross-country. Bowling Green’s “Purple Pack” is moving quickly toward its last hurrah.
Six Lady Purples Ciara Scott, Lauren Wheeler, Sarah-Emily Woodward, Van Games, Brittney Hansen and Madisyn Peeples have been dominant for years in cross-country and track. But with four seniors in the group, this track season will be their last chance to make some memories together.
“Every day, I come out here really happy to be running with them,” Games said. “But then my pessimistic attitude kicks in, and I keep thinking of everything as the last. But I’m trying to enjoy the last moments of getting to run with them.”
Some of the four seniors Scott, Wheeler, Woodward and Games have been together since sixth grade. They added sophomore Hansen and freshman Peeples into the mix along the way, putting together a tight-knit team that’s been an intimidating presence for area competition.
They earned the fitting Purple Pack nickname in cross-country, where they’ve claimed the top five spots in the region meet the last two seasons for a perfect score of 15, running in a tight pack along the way.
Bowling Green coach Matt Hamilton said. “Some of them have been doing it for six years, and it’s a special group. Especially for a public school to compete with the private schools the way they have, it’s just a top-notch group. You hate to lose them, but they’re all going on to bigger and better things.”
Three of the runners Scott (Eastern Kentucky), Wheeler (Memphis) and Woodward (Austin Peay) will run in college next season. Games decided this week to attend Purdue and study engineering.
They’ve started to think about this spring being their last round of competition together, Woodward said, but they haven’t given much thought to what next year is going to be like in new surroundings.
“None of us are going to the same college, so it’s going to be really weird,” Woodward said. We’ve all grown up together. Van and I started in sixth grade together, so it’s going to be so weird not having that relationship there. We’ve always had each other, and we’ve always meshed so well. It’ll be totally different next year, but hopefully we’ll stay in touch and run together when we come back into town. That’s what we’ve always done together.”
Running together isn’t where the Lady Purples’ tradition ends. Taking home trophies and medals has become a staple, too.
After sweeping the top five spots in the cross-country region meet in 2012 and 2013 with Games just a few spots back the BG girls all finished in the top 26 at state, placing second as a team behind Assumption. Peeples was second individually.
In track, Bowling Green finished second last season and third the year before in the 4×800 meter relay at State. The lineup has changed over time, with Peeples replacing Games in the event last season.
The group also has nine other top-10 finishes in state track events over the last two years.
“We spend two hours a day together every day, and we go to meets together,” Scott said. “All that time they know everything about me, and I know everything about them. We talk about everything, and that makes it easier for running. There¹s a comfort there with them.”
The girls have built an even closer bond outside their high school competition.
They’ve all competed at some point for the BG Lightning Club team, which was formed to allow the high school athletes to participate in postseason meets after state. They’re not allowed to compete in such events under their high school name or jersey, nor can the school support them financially.
Hansen, Wheeler, Scott and Peeples recently finished 10th in the nation in the 4×1 mile event at the New Balance Indoor Nationals on March 14-16 in New York City.
“They learn to rely on each other,” BG Lightning coach Jef Scott said.
“They’re at this big race, but they¹re finding out the other girls are no different than they are. It”s cool to see how close they’ve become and how much they support each other. I know those things occur on teams that don’t perform at the club level, but there”s something about heading off to New York City, where you don¹t know any of the competitors, and you step up to the line against some of the best in the country.”
The BG quartet beat Assumption’s runners at New Balance and finished 10 seconds away from qualifying for All-American status in their 21-minute finish.
“It’s kind of intimidating at first, but I kind of like it because it’s a new, different crowd and competition there,” Hansen said. “It kind of helps us all out, to raise our capabilities.”
The Lady Purples have a few more months to bring in the accolades. Then it’s time for the goodbyes.
“I’ve been with them since seventh grade, and it feels really short,” Peeples said. “I’m going to be really sad for them to leave. They’ve taught me a lot about running and a lot of about life, so I’m sad to see them go. I’ll be crying, but they’re going to do great things in college.”
Wheeler said she believes people who think Bowling Green’s run is over with the mass graduations haven’t taken a good enough look at the talent of Peeples and Hansen, who will be called upon to lead the team next year.
Although, they¹re going to have to add “saleswoman” to their list of credentials, Wheeler said.
“They’ve got great talent, and they practice really hard,” Wheeler said.
“They’ll do amazing next year. I think they’ll have to do a little bit of recruiting and get a couple new girls coming in, but I think they can definitely do it.”
But even if the results remain similar, it won’t be the same as the Purple Pack.
Games, the self-proclaimed “goofball” of the group, said she found herself discouraged in the past after returning from a trip to Scotland slower than she was before with regular training. Over time, she¹s rediscovered the same determination as her teammates, she said.
Each of the six runners claimed the same secret to their success: Being pushed to the limits by the others in the pack.
“It’s awesome to walk into meets and know I have some of the top runners on my team,” Games said. “We’re so blessed that even though we have such a small pool to choose from, that we have such amazing runners, teammates and friends.”
Follow prep sports writer Zach Greenwell on Twitter at twitter.com/zach_greenwell or visitbgdailynews.com.