By Rob Kiser
As Karmen Knepp was being interviewed in the chute beyond the finish line at the D-III regional cross country meet Saturday in Troy, the senior received the news that Bradford had qualified to the state meet as a team for the first time ever.
And the smile that came across her face didn’t even begin to tell the story — or what she overcame just to be running at state as a senior.
“They found out I had an extra bone (vertebrae) in my back,” Knepp said. “I was just hoping to be able to build up to this race this season. I missed the first two races because of it.”
Knepp seemed on pace to rewrite the Bradford record books after her sophomore year — and in reality she had.
She finished 10th at the D-III state cross country meet as a sophomore, finishing in 18:44.2 to earn All-Ohio honors. Knepp went on to qualify for the D-III state track and field meet later that spring in the 3,200.
And her junior year in cross country seemed to be on track, before the discovery. After qualifying for regionals last year, she was unable to run.
“When I wasn’t able to run at regionals last year, that was really difficult,” Knepp said. “When I told the coach (Rob Grillot) I wouldn’t be able to run, I just felt like I was letting the entire school down. But, that was just the beginning.”
Knepp missed part of the track season, before coming back late. Still, she was able to make it to the regionals before her season ended.
“That was when the hip flexor and then the problem with my ankles occurred,” Knepp said. “All of it was from that. I am going to therapy once a week.”
She was just hoping to get the opportunity to return to the state meet.
“We were working toward this,” she said. “I wasn’t sure if my chiropractor was going to let me run today. I am just so thankful that he did.”
She ran her best race of the season. While it is still short of her times from two years ago, she finished 10th in 20:07.0.
“It was my best race this year,” Knepp said.
More importantly to her, Bradford will be seven strong this year at the state meet — for the first time ever.
“I don’t want to seem unappreciative of what I accomplished before,” Knepp said. “But, it means so much more to me to have the whole team running at state.”
And Grillot was not surprised by what the team accomplished.
“It is been the goal for two years,” he said. “For sure, we knew we could do this. I am just so proud of these girls. As the race was going on, I thought we were in good shape, it seemed that way.”
The Railroaders put three runners in the top 18.
Sophomore Skipp Miller led the way, with a sixth-place finish in 20:01.9.
“I was disappointed last year because I didn’t get to run in district,” Miller said. “But, this makes up for it. For sure, we thought we could make it to state as a team from the beginning of the year.”
Austy Miller followed Knepp, finishing 17th in 20:21.8.
Other Bradford runners were Olivia Daugherty, 44, 21:52.9; Mercedes Smith, 67, 22:48.9; Jenna Shellabarger, 79, 24:00.1; and Alexis Barhorst, 84, 24:30.5.
And making history is nothing new for Skipp Miller, who led the Bradford softball team to its first Final Four appearance as a freshman last spring.
“It is a great feeling,” Miller said. “But, we couldn’t have done it it without all my teammates. I didn’t do it alone.”
Knepp knows that feeling of running alone. And not having to do it this year — and getting back to make her final high school cross country race at the state meet, after all the obstacles along the way, makes it all worth it.
Rob Kiser is Sports Editor for the Daily Call. He can be reached at (937) 451-3334.