Finishing with style

Strasburg High School senior Rachel Tischler, who finished her high school cross country career with an all-state performance at the Group 2A state meet, is the Northern Virginia Daily's 2014 Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year. Rich Cooley/Daily

STRASBURG — Rachel Tischler had to change her pre-season goals.

The Strasburg senior cross country runner was seventh on the team as a junior, so she didn’t have lofty expectations. Once the season started, she began to do better and better. By the time the year was over, she had put together a season to remember.

Tischler led the Rams to a fourth-place finish in the state meet, and placed 11th in the state individually to earn all-state honors.

“I remember at the beginning of my season the goal was to be the number five runner, and slowly I realized, ‘Wow, I could do more,'” Tischler said. “I just kept setting goals. I was thinking, ‘Wow, I could be number three’ and then number two, and then at the end I was like, ‘I could be number one.'”

By the end of the regular season, Tischler was No. 2 on the team, but was very close to freshman teammate Grace Dellinger. Once the postseason began, Tischler moved ahead of Dellinger and led the way for the Rams.

Tischler, The Northern Virginia Daily’s 2014 Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year, finished 10th in the Bull Run District meet. She said that was where she realized she could do something special in the postseason.

“[Assistant] coach [Katherine] Klus, I think she believed in me a lot, and she told me straight up you can do this, you can be number one if you want to,” Tischler said. “I think that was an awakening in me that I realized I can do this. So I went for it.”

Tischler finished third in the Conference 35 meet, and backed that up with a ninth-place showing in the Region 2A East meet.

In the Group 2A state meet at Great Meadow, Tischler finished the race strong in securing the all-state honor. She was in 20th place heading into the last mile, but moved up nine spots to finish the race in a time of 20:20.

Tischler was able to finish each of the postseason races strong, and it made a huge difference for her.

“As a younger runner I remember I would always struggle in the third mile,” Tischler said. “I think it’s just something that I’ve mentally been able to overcome. I know that a lot of people falter during that period, and I think I feed off kind of that tired energy and I’m able to use that to my advantage.”

As a sophomore, Tischler ran on the JV team. Last year she struggled to stay in the top seven. She said she wanted to make sure her spot on the team was secure this season, and it motivated her.

“I remember at the Bull Run District [meet] looking back behind and making sure the number eight girl was behind me because I wanted to be on the team going into the championship season,” Tischler said. “I didn’t like the feeling of being right on the edge.”

Tischler said she feels like steady running was the key to her breakthrough season for the Rams.

Strasburg coach Jeff Rudy said she is a great example for all of her teammates.

“I think Rachel exhibits what our program is about, and that is the steady consistent running and the growth of the athlete over four years,” Rudy said. “It’s not that quick burning start that burns out, but instead that sort of meteoric rise that it takes to develop an athlete to culminate often in their last year, and to give so much of the athlete’s self to the program and to the distance family.”

The Rams finished the season with only nine runners on the squad, but despite a lack of depth managed to have a very strong year.

Tischler she is very proud of the success of the team.

“We were very proud of the outcome,” Tischler said. “Last year we got fifth, so to come into it with less team members and not as much depth as the year before, and place fourth was a great feeling.”

Tischler certainly played a key role in the team’s success. She was one of three seniors on the state-meet squad and was a leader on the team.

“It’s kind of different to be in that leadership role, but I really enjoyed it, getting to be a role model for the younger girls,” Tischler said. “I hope that I made a positive impact on them.”

Tischler made an impact on Strasburg’s program with her strong senior season. She said she’s looking at possibly running in college, but either way she plans to keep running after high school.

She said that it’s a little sad that her high school cross country career is over, but she’s looking forward to the future.

“It’s kind of bittersweet, but at the same time there’s a lot of races out there,” Tischler said, “a lot of ways to stay involved. So I’m excited for what the future holds.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com