The Leesville girls cross country team has had a very strong squad for the past few years. They have finished top ten in the conference, regional and state meets each of the past three years.
This season, the expectations are no different.
The Pride is ranked as the 12th-best team in North Carolina by MileSplit and have the top-ranked runner in the nation Nevada Mareno, senior, to lead the group.
This season, Leesville will be without some runners who were key contributors to the team the past four years. The Pride lost Emily Pettis, G’jasmyne Butler, Sydney Winchel, and Taylor Hemming to graduation.
They held four of the top seven spots on the team. Pettis and Butler finished in the top 30 at the 2015 NCHSAA 4A Girls Cross Country Championship and Winchel and Hemming placed 32 and 70, respectively. The team finished third overall.
However, the team is still returning three of their top runners, including Mareno and Noor Hasan, seniors, and Audrey Hemming, junior and sister of Taylor Hemming. All three runners have had experience running on the biggest stages in North Carolina cross country.
The team also welcomes some newcomers who have the potential to contribute heavily throughout the season. Dalia Hasan, freshman and the sister of Noor Hasan, finished ninth in the Freshman-Sophomore 3,000 cross country run at the BaySix Kickoff Classic, showing that she could be a key factor in Leesville’s success throughout the season.
Izzy Genereux, sophomore, also joins the team this year for the first time and finished 21st at the BaySix Kickoff Classic in the same division as Hasan, running a 12:53.33.
Karen Hawkins, coach, said this year’s group of girls trained hard during track season and over the summer and are willing to put in work.
“I feel like we have so much depth this year that we have an ability to continue to grow,” said Hawkins. “Ultimately, we just have a culture of hard work and girls believing.”
Leesville, however, could be challenged by other strong teams, including Broughton and Cardinal Gibbons. Broughton returns a competitive top seven including their best runner Savannah Jones, senior, and will challenge the Pride for the CAP 8 conference title. Cardinal Gibbons, the 2015 4A Girls Cross Country State Champion, enters this season as the top-ranked team in the state, and Leesville will have to work hard throughout the season to challenge them at the state meet this year if they plan on taking their place at the top.
2016 will be Leesville girl’s cross country team’s year to continue the program’s recent tradition of high achievement and success.