It may be early November, but veteran Starkville High School cross country coach Caroline Woomer is hoping to unwrap a few presents at the Mississippi High School Activities Association State Cross Country meet Saturday at Choctaw Trails in Clinton.
“It feels almost like it’s Christmas,” Woomer said of the expectations she has for her boys and girls teams entering the final event of the year. “We have really been competitive and things are really setting up pretty good for us. I like the way we have been competing.”
State champions will be decided for boys and girls in all six classifications Saturday. The Starkville boys will take part in the Class 5A girls 4-Kilometer event at 1 p.m. The boys will run a 5-K at 1:30 p.m.
“We have been performing well in every meet, ” Woomer said. “It’s really been better than any of the five years I’ve been coaching. The runners have been getting serious. They put in the time necessary and have followed the mileage program.”
Experience is a plus for the Jackets and Lady Jackets.
“We have a couple people who have moved in here, but we have several who have been around since the seventh grade,” she said. “That really makes a difference.”
While experience is a plus for the Starkville teams, it’s just the opposite for Caledonia.
“We are coming off three consecutive division championships for the boys and girls, but a lot of those (runners) are gone,” said Caledonia coach James Reed. “We have some good young people who just need some experience. We have some junior high kids running with us and the older ones really aren’t that experienced, but they have really been coming along. I think we have a pretty good chance to do well in the state meet.”
Caledonia will take part in the Class 4A girls event at 2 p.m. The boys will run at 2:30 p.m.
Reed said Houston Greggs has been leading the way for the Confederates, while Josh Kugel has been coming on strong as of late.
Miriam Bahlinger, an exchange student from Germany, has been the top runner for the Caledonia girls.
Reed said his advice to his runners when they take the course Saturday afternoon will be simple.
“If somebody’s in front of them, they need to be catching them,” he said. “If you have got that mentality, then you have a chance.”
Teams are allowed to enter 10 girls and 10 boys in the events. Seven will be designated to gain points for the team. The top five finishers out of those designated runners from each school will score points.
Starkville’s Woomer said her boys team is pretty set and the top seven are “very solid.”
Sophomore Joseph MacGown, senior Kamau Bostic, and junior Damien Grady have been the top three this season, with Ethan Musser, Stewart Woomer, Aaron Remopigue, and Alex Ross rounding out the top seven.
“I feel pretty good about the top three. They usually come in together,” Woomer said. “Our key runners are going to be the four and five runners. If they can have a good day then we have a pretty good chance to do well.”
On the girls side, seventh-grader Kate Mattox has consistently been the first SHS runner to cross the finish line.
Also being counted on are freshman Walker Mattox (Kate’s sister) Abigail Arinder, Shanika Musser, Mary Elizabeth Stringer, Anna Jackson, and Ashley Albritton.
While the MHSAA will wrap up its cross country season Saturday, the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools had its state championships Oct. 24.
Starkville Academy senior Austin White, in just his first season of competition, finished fifth in the Class AAA meet at Choctaw Trails in Clinton with a time of 18 minutes, 24 seconds.
Starkville Academy coach Nancy Christiansen said White was a one-year success story.
“After the first meet of the year he finished 23rd and he took a seat behind me in the bus and said, ‘I’m not used to them outrunning me. I’m going to be practicing hard and getting better.’ ”
That work ethic paid off for White, who posted a personal best of 18:18 during the season, leading up to the fifth-place finish at the state meet.
“My first cross-country meet I was really nervous,” White said. “I was new to it and I just ran too fast at the start and burned myself out.”
Once he picked up his training and learned to pace himself, White showed marked improvement.
Even though the MAIS season has ended, White’s effort is still paying dividends. He won the Nick Bell 3.6-mile run at MSU earlier this week. The event had an estimated 500 competitors. His finish at the MAIS meet earned him an invitation to a national meet for independent school runners in West Virginia later this month.
“He has been a great kid to be around,” Christiansen said. “And he’s been such an inspiration and a leader for the younger runners. He’s always encouraging them and helping them. That’s one of the things that makes him special.”
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