COLUMBIA — After graduating its star runner last year, the Rock Bridge cross country team is forging an identity of its own this season.
For the past three seasons, Lauren Borduin headlined the team. She was All-State in cross country for three seasons, finishing 12th at the state meet her senior year. She was also the district champion last season. Her successes extended to the track team, where she was the state champion in the 800-meter run three times and the mile twice. She was also the only girl in Class 4 history to be the champion in both the mile and the 800 two years in a row. She is currently running at the collegiate level for Georgetown.
"The focus of other teams was on Lauren," Rock Bridge coach Neal Blackburn said. "Other coaches would never ask about the team. It was always, 'How's Lauren?'"
Borduin's departure left the team to establish a new identity.
"I actually jokingly call this the ‘Post-Lauren Era,'" Blackburn said.
The future of this new era looks bright, though. The first sign that the Bruins would be all right came in the season opener when the Bruins won an invitational in Liberty, a meet they had never won. They won the varsity, junior varsity and sophomore races. The rest of the season has continued to be successful. The boys team finished second at Liberty and is ranked ninth in the state.
Borduin's graduation also required the team to find new leaders.
"It's not that we just lost a fantastic runner," Blackburn said. "We lost a fantastic leader."
Rock Bridge's oldest runners are stepping up to fill that gap. Seniors Charly King, Becca Brocksmith, Anastasia Schmaltz, Jordan Adams, Whitney Hamilton and Kari Schaal are all looking to help pick up the leadership role that Borduin left behind. The Bruins' youth is also helping the team, and freshman Samantha Garrett managed a fourth-place finish at Liberty.
Team development is nothing new to Rock Bridge. The Bruins have been steadily improving since Blackburn, who is in his eighth season as coach, took over. Since then, the team has become a contender. In 2006, the boys team finished the season ranked fifth in the state, and the girls team finished ranked 11th, top finishes for both teams.
The loss of Borduin might have been a setback to the team, but it looks more than capable of bouncing back and getting better.
"I'm just really happy with the makeup of this team," Blackburn said. "They're really making their own identity."