So when Etowah cross country coach Jesse Howard saw his girls win the county championship, place in the top four of Region 5AAAAAA and finish in the top 10 at the Class AAAAAA state meet, he knew he had put together something special.
“Based on the track season from last year and what we had coming back — we had everyone back from the year that we went to state before — I knew they were hungry,” Howard said. “They wanted to perform at the highest level, so they did.”
For his efforts this season, Howard his the 2013 Cherokee Tribune Girls Cross Country Coach of the Year.
“We just had tremendous depth,” he said. “I think that it’s, more than anything — when you have one or two leaders on the team, it’s getting the rest of the runners to follow those leaders and learn to pace themselves with those leaders.”
Aside from the county meet won by Kingsley Green, the Lady Eagles’ runners finished on the top of the podium as individuals only a few times this season. Rather, it was how they finished as a group that carried them through the season.
Etowah won its first meet of the season by placing runners fourth, fifth, sixth, eighth and 12th. The story was the same throughout the season, culminating with a sixth place finish at the state meet, when the Lady Eagles scored points by putting five runners in the top 75.
“Top to bottom, we had six or seven runners that we could count on, race in and race out, to put out a good performance,” Howard said. “At the end of the year, we had some injuries kind of add up, but we still ended up with a sixth-place performance at the state meet. It all worked out OK”
Among the most consistent runners on the team were Green, Kyla Resnick, Madison Fowler, Julia Turbyfield, Macki Walsh and Jaylin Lucier.
“They put in a lot of work, too,” Howard said. “A lot of these girls have come from youth feeder programs, where they have been running for three, four, five years. They know how to run and stay in the races, but it’s mostly just practicing together and learning how to run with that speed.”
Howard said it doesn’t hurt that the girls are good friends, even when they aren’t running.
“Most of their outings on Friday and Saturday night are mostly with each other,” Howard said. “They are a pretty close bunch.”
Howard, who was also named the 2012 Cherokee Tribune Girls Cross Country Coach of the Year, has a good shot at leading the Lady Eagles back to the state meet for a third year. Each of his varsity runners have at least one year of high school competition remaining.
“It feels pretty good,” Howard said. “I will say it with a cautionary note, because you have got to stay healthy. This year, we had a couple of injuries. The other thing is that there are always eighth-graders who become ninth-graders that are extremely fast. We can’t predict the future and know what eighth-graders are going to become good. But what we have on paper looks really good. I expect to compete for a state title next year.
“I think, with everyone coming back, they will be even hungrier knowing that they could have done so much more. But I can’t complain. It’s the best finish (at state) that we’ve ever had. We will see if we can improve upon it next year.”