June 18, 2021

Cathedral girls race to a stunning state track championship

The runners and coaches of the girls’ track team of Cathedral High School in Indianapolis are all smiles as they celebrate their 2021 Indiana High School Athletic Association Track and Field State Championship victory on June 5 in Indianapolis. Kaylah Pitts, left, and Alexis Parchman are in the bottom row while Coach Josiah Daniels, left, Milani Kimble, Reese Sanders, Sidney Sanders and Coach John O’Hara form the top row. (Submitted photo)

The runners and coaches of the girls’ track team of Cathedral High School in Indianapolis are all smiles as they celebrate their 2021 Indiana High School Athletic Association Track and Field State Championship victory on June 5 in Indianapolis. Kaylah Pitts, left, and Alexis Parchman are in the bottom row while Coach Josiah Daniels, left, Milani Kimble, Reese Sanders, Sidney Sanders and Coach John O’Hara form the top row. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

As the head coach of the girls track team at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis, John O’Hara kept considering the possibilities for his “fierce five” as they approached the start of the Track and Field State Championship of the Indiana High School Athletic Association on June 5.

With five of his girls qualifying for the state meet in Indianapolis, O’Hara figured a top-five finish “would be a tremendous achievement for a school” the size of Cathedral.

As far as the possibility of winning the state championship, he allowed himself to dream a little, thinking, “There’s a crazy, crazy chance—if all the chips fall our way.”

The chips fell, and the crazy, crazy chance became a wondrous celebration of reality as the Cathedral girls won the school’s first-ever state championship in track—by one point—a victory that came down to the final event of the competition.

“Dreams do come true,” O’Hara said.

Beyond the team victory for Cathedral, the dream also came true for Lily Cridge of Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis. The sophomore runner received an ovation from the crowd as she set the meet record in the 3,200-meter run.

Emily Loiselle of Bishop Chatard also earned a round of applause when she was named by the Indiana High School Athletic Association as the recipient of this year’s Mental Attitude Award in girls’ track and field.

As for the Cathedral girls, they heard the rousing cheers of their fans on a day when they surpassed expectations.

Alexis Parchman placed fourth in the 100-meter dash, after being seeded ninth in that event. Cathedral’s 4x100 relay team “ran out of their minds,” O’Hara said about the group’s fourth-place finish in the event where they were seeded 11th. And Reese Sanders placed a surprising third in the 100-meter hurdles.

That’s when O’Hara started to believe the dream could become a reality, especially as Cathedral was seeded first in its last two events.

Reese Sanders upheld her top ranking by winning the 300-meter hurdles. Then it came down to the 4x400 relay team of Sidney Sanders—Reese’s younger sister—Milani Kimble, Kaylah Pitts and Reese.

“It’s not very common that everything comes down to the last event, that everything gets decided in those four minutes,” O’Hara said.

As she started the anchor leg of the relay, Reese was in second place, but not for long. “She took off like a bullet and never left anything in question,” her coach recalled.

When the only team that could challenge Cathedral finished fourth in that relay, O’Hara’s team had earned the state title by just one point.

“It was pure elation,” O’Hara said. “It was a pretty neat celebration.”

The celebration has continued for days in the Cathedral community for the first-ever track championship. Everywhere O’Hara turns as he teaches summer school at Cathedral, someone congratulates him. And the texts, calls and e-mails of congratulations have kept coming for him and the girls.

Their coach is quick to celebrate the girls, not only for their championship, but also for being “consummate competitors.”

“It’s just a fierce group,” said O’Hara, a 2002 Cathedral graduate. “They are as complete as a team can be with five main girls. They came together over the last year and longer. A lot of dedication and love. They feed off each other in the most positive way. They not only lead by example, they are encouraging with each other.

“A race can be over in 11 seconds or a few minutes. People don’t see 99.9 % of the work that goes into this. I’ve seen the blood, sweat and tears they put in.”

O’Hara paused before adding, “We do this for each other. And it turned out in a way we always dreamed about. The best part is seeing the elation in their eyes. They’re still floating.” †

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