A bright future for the Leesville XC team

The varsity men’s and women’s cross country teams pose for a picture on the starting line before their race. These photos were taken at the first meet of the season; since then, they have improved substantially. (Photos used by permission of Brent Hale)

After a successful season of racing, the cross country teams have started to buckle down and focus on the most important meets of the season: CAP-7, Regionals, and the NCHSAA 4A State Championships. Looking forward, the teams seem to be in the position to finish as top competitors.

Every July, NCRunners- Milesplit (a public running data domain) releases preseason team rankings compiled based on the personal bests from the previous cross country season. Looking back a few months, the teams have progressed substantially in rankings since the first release. This year, the women’s team was ranked fourteenth and the men’s thirteenth. While these estimations were the highest that they have been since 2015 for the womens and 2016 for the men’s, they still came up short of where the teams are projected to finish now.

A preseason goal that the teams made toward the end of July was to finish as one of the top five competitors. The goal may have seemed overly ambitious in comparison to the rankings that NCRunners released, however, those disparaging preseason ranks didn’t deter the athletes from trying.

“It’s just an amazing experience being a part of such an awesome team. The teamwork and the whole team effort is really an amazing experience. I never thought that I would be part of such an amazing team, both effort-wise, teamwork-wise, and how well we do,” said Abigail Mabe, sophomore and varsity cross country runner.

At Great American Cross Country Festival on October 6, the teams made massive strides– each team taking third place with countless personal bests that shot them up in the rankings. Notable women’s performances came from Ashley Tysiac and Dalia Hassan as they both made their way into the low ninteens while placing third and fourth in the women’s varsity race. Another performance worthy of recognition came from James-Rolf Blizzard, sophomore, who finished first out of Leesville’s men’s team and finished 25th overall.

While CAP-7 is a competitive meet against the schools in the area, the Regionals meet is the most dire meet of the season; it determines whether or not a team will advance to race at the state championships. In order to race at states, a team has to place in the top five at regionals. In the event that a team as a whole doesn’t meet that standard but a particularly talented individual finishes with a top place, he/she may advance individually.

Before the Great American Cross Country Festival, the women’s team was looking at a realistic fourth place finish and the men’s team, a third place finish at regionals. The women’s team left the meet with standards that could land them in second and the men’s with a first place finish. They went from chasing other teams, to being the team to chase.

“I think [our performance was] definitely a confidence booster and we’re definitely going to use that accomplishment at Great American to do even better at regionals and states,” said Mabe.

In the past, Leesville specifically has improved drastically from the preseason ranks to their finishing stance at states. Last year the women’s team finished ninth in the state when they weren’t even ranked by NCRunners in the top 25. The men’s team was in a similar situation being ranked twenty-first and finishing the season with in seventh. If the trend continues, the cross country teams could be looking at even higher placements at the top meets of the season.

The men’s team is looking to overtake Gibbons and the women’s team is hoping to maintain their stance in front of Broughton and take out Green Hope. If both team’s can decrease their 1-5 split time, they could be looking at a first place finish at regionals and a top five finish at states.

Cole Harsa, sophomore, said, “I hope we win regionals and get top three at states… based on our rankings right now, we are projected to get one or two in region and at least top six in state, so I think it should be pretty doable if we continue to work and stick with that strong front pack.”

The team’s tactic approaching the weeks leading up to regionals and the state championship remains similar but involving a higher mileage and more speed. When the week of the races arrives, the teams will taper in order to be fully recovered for the meets.

“[Leading up to states and regionals, we’re doing] a lot of workouts, a lot of foam rolling, stretching, hydrating, and getting good recovery,” said Harsa.

The top seven boys are primarily set in stone, with a questionable seventh runner. There is a little friendly competition taking place between Will Bell and Kevin Bollin for the last varsity spot in order to race at regionals and states. Meanwhile the women’s team top racers past the fifth spot are generally up in the air. As the state meet continues to approach, the athletes are training hard to secure the varsity team. CAP-7 and regionals will help determine the group that will be representing Leesville at states

As the last weeks of the season close, the athletes are focused and determined to achieve their preseason goals. With a positive attitude and months of training backing them, they are believing in the best outcome.

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