CHURUBUSCO – Hard work pays off. That’s what the Soaring Eagles has proven, as the Churubusco elementary girls cross country team heads to nationals.

In only its third season of competition, the Soaring Eagles will compete at AAU nationals Dec. 2 in North Carolina.

What started as 12 girls on the 3rd-grade team doubled to 24 girls the next year and has risen to 28 girls this year.

The Soaring Eagles pose with the Smith-Green school board after being presented with achievement certificates for their season success.

Churubusco had never had a girls elementary cross country team until head coach Elaine Kolvoord moved from Fort Wayne to Turtle Town.

“No one had been running before we got here,” said Kolvoord. “It took a while to build a base and become competitive. Going to nationals this year is really just for the experience. Next year I believe we’ll place really well, since they’ll have another year under their belt.”

The elementary distance is typically one mile, but the AAU distance is nearly twice as long, at 1.9 miles. The team has been preparing for the longer distance, as they have run at AAU races before.

The Soaring Eagles will travel in two vans to North Carolina for the national race. The team will fundraise for the trip, which includes hotel, food and cost to participate. The team had time standards to hit in order to be competitive at the national race. They hit those marks and every Soaring Eagle runner is planning to make the trip. A member of the boys cross country team will also board a van and run at the event.

The Soaring Eagles will have national running experience when they reach North Carolina. The team went to New Albany, Indiana, in September and ran a state qualifying meet in hopes to advance to the YES nationals. The 11-12 year-olds placed first and the 9-10 year-olds placed fourth. Everyone advanced to the YES nationals that will happen Nov 18 in Westchester, Ohio.

“That will give them good experience in a national meet,” said Kolvoord. “We won’t peek for that one. Our goal is to peek for the AAU nationals come December.”

Former Superintendent Galen Mast took time away from the awards ceremony to pose for a picture with the Eagles.

In addition to excelling on the course, the girls strive to be good citizens. Each year the team picks a community service project to support the community that supports them. They held a food drive to aid the local food bank; they earned money to build Build-A-Bears for the children’s hospital; they picked up trash at the park and held a hat and glove drive for the veterans, as well as made them cards thanking, them for their service.

“My runners are great at what they do, and they’re great kids, too, “ said Kolvoord. “I have loved watching them grow from third to fifth grade. We do community projects together, they are not just great runners, and they’re amazing girls.”

The Soaring Eagles don’t just have Dec. 2 on their mind; they have dreams and aspirations that go much farther. The girls have both high school and college in mind.

“Their other long-term goal is to advance to state in 2021; that’s when they’ll be freshmen. It’s something that’s never been done at Churubusco,” said Kolvoord. “They improved so much over the few years. One of their long-term goals is to get running scholarships for college. The girls get so excited when we talk about college.”

The team philosophy is that they’re a team, and they’re in it for each other, Kolvoord said.

“The working concept for us is that we’re a team. I tell them that not one runner is more important than another. This past year, in our first five races, we have put 10 different girls in the top five scoring positions,”

Now that’s teamwork.