LENOX - For two years, the now-freshman members of the Lenox girls cross country team have been going to school, virtually learning as they ran.
Now that they have moved from the middle school years to high school, these Millionaires are ready to cash in what they have learned.
"We have such talent in Berkshire County, it definitely makes us stronger runners," said freshman Grace Ellrodt. "We're always thinking about what the other teams are doing and what we have to do to match them."
Ellrodt and the rest of the Millionaires ran at Mount Greylock on Saturday morning and ran the course at Wahconah Regional on Monday in preparation for Friday's regular-season opener.
Much like a biology or history class, cross-country is a learned experience. In fact, most practices are like being in a classroom. After all, this isn't a sport like football or soccer, where the athlete might be on a running team when he or she is 8 or 9.
"In seventh grade, it was definitely tricky trying to get the hang of everything - learning racing strategies and stuff," said freshman Annie Fielding. "Now that I'm older, I don't really worry about that too much. It comes naturally."
Liz Jarck is one of those freshmen and she distinctly remembers when she was in seventh and eighth grade. It's a bit hard for her to imagine that she's now one of the veterans.
"It's crazy. They're so little," said Jarck. "It's unbelievable that I was starting in seventh grade.
In recent years, Lenox has run as second fiddle to the powerful Mount Greylock girls. The school in Williamstown has an extensive resume, which includes winning last year's Western Massachusetts Division II championship.
Last year at the Northfield meet, Lenox finished 46 points behind champion Mount Greylock, but were second out of 20 teams. That was the bad news for the Millionaires. The silver lining, and there is a definite silver lining, is that three Lenox eighth graders - Emily Tibbetts, Ellrodt and Jarck all finished in the top 20. In fact, Tibbetts, Ellrodt and Jarck were 16th, 17th, and 18th. Another then eighth-grader, Fielding, was 39th overall out of 143 recorded finishers.
"The difference is you're getting older, stronger," said Jarck. "I started in seventh grade and was wondering what I was doing. In eighth grade, I kind of got the hang of everything."
The Mounties are the team that sets the bar for the rest of Berkshire County to clear. Lenox coach Jeanne Teasdale said has enjoyed watching these kids mature into veteran runners.
"When they're here as seventh graders or if they come in as eighth graders, it's really to have fun," she said. "We have to incorporate run activities for them. I want them to love running for life. I don't want it to be something that by the time they get to high school, they hate it and they never want to do it. It's got to be a fun sport. It's a tough one to do."
"The day we qualified for Western Mass.," Teasdale said "trying to keep them in a huddle they were like little puppies running to the parents instead of keeping their focus."
Many of the freshmen runners have been with the team since they left elementary school. Tibbetts was not. As a freshman, she played soccer, but switched to running last year.
"Running has always been real big in my family. My mom is a big runner and my dad does it sometimes. All these girls did it," said Tibbetts, who admitted it took a little adjustment to leave the pitch and run in the woods. "So I decided to try it.
"[In soccer] I did center-midfield a lot, and that was my main position in seventh grade. I liked actually the running part, and I decided to try [cross country] when all my friends said they really liked it."
Not only do these girls, who can be classified as veterans even though they're only in ninth grade, really like the running and the competition, this group of Millionaires could be poised to do some big things in the next few years.
The top seven Lenox runners last year were all underclassmen and five of the runners were considered middle schoolers.
Trying to take that next step is something these freshmen have been discussing since the end of last season and certainly since captains practices in the summer.
"We have been talking about it," said Ellrodt. "We're really hoping that this is the year when we have such talent on the team - such a strong team and such a young team."