GLEN — When she moved from her native state of Indiana to Mississippi six years ago, Alcorn Central sophomore Aubree Justice had never run a cross country or track and field event.
Now she has earned the distinction of being the first female high school cross country runner in the Magnolia State to capture a double state title following her All-State gold medal effort last Saturday in Clinton where she topped the field of individual state champions from every classification.
She captured the Class 3A individual state title a week earlier when the Lady Bears placed fourth in the state in their classification behind a pair of private schools and Kossuth.
“I would definitely trade both individual state title medals for an overall team gold medal,” said the soft-spoken Justice sitting in the classroom of her head coach Samuel Holley. “I’m very competitive by nature and winning the individual awards makes me so proud. But I would much rather have had our team win state.”
How nice would it have been had the Lady Bears won the team title while Justice claimed the individual titles?
“That would have been so great,” she said. “But we gave it our best shot.”
The Central girls did win the Region 1-3A girls title over the defending state champion Lady Aggies a few weeks ago prior to the state meet. But in Clinton, they finished just a few mere points behind their county rivals as well as a pair of private schools.
“The night before the state meet we had a team meeting at the hotel where we talked about what we needed to do to hopefully beat out Kossuth again and hopefully win the state championship,” Justice recalled. “We knew we could do it but we also did not want to go out on the course all nervous and not do our best.”
As far as her individual State 3A, and overall All-State, gold medal-winning runs, Justice said it all started in the seventh grade when she was first encouraged to join the team by her friend Haleigh Selph.
“Looking back now, I’m glad I started,” said the state champion. “When I’m running it takes my mind off of things for a while and being competitive helps me drive myself and work harder to get better each race.”
My first year I honestly didn’t like it too much, but then I began to start getting the hang of it my eighth-grade year. By the time I reached high school, I began to notice the potential I have. There was really no reason to quit at that point because I was getting better and had grown to like the sport a lot.”
The 2021 cross country season was almost perfect for Justice. Of the eight individual races, she was part of she won seven.
“The first race of the year was at TCPS and it was hot and steamy and that course is all hills,” said ACHS Coach Samuel Holley. “That turned out to be the only race she didn’t win.”
Legendary retired Coach Bobby Purvis was leading the Central program when Justice joined and, for the last two years has been under the tutelage of Holley, himself a former AC runner. Justice said both have pushed her to be better but have mostly done it silently.
“I really push myself so they (Purvis and Holley) never really say anything much out loud to me, although they have a couple of times I guess.”
The Double State Champion set a personal best time of 19:40 in the overall All-State Championship Race last Saturday after recording a 20:07 in the 3A state meet, still good enough for the gold.
“She out-distanced Lucy Littlejohn from French Camp for the overall title last Saturday,” said Holley of his star runner, “ And she did that by finishing about 16 or 17 seconds ahead of Littlejohn.”
In the Class 3A State Championship, the AC sophomore finished first ahead of Emily Ireland of St. Andrews, the school that won the girls 3A team title.
“Aubree sets the pace, sets the example, and goes above and beyond what she is asked to do,” said the Central coach. “She is definitely our team leader as a sophomore and the other girls feed off her work ethic and ability.”
“(Fellow team member) Noel Selph is a year older than me but she has told me that I am the reason she shows up at practice and the reason she works so hard to get better,” Justice continued. “I don’t want credit for that but it’s nice to know others look up to my example.”
Asked if she has aspirations to run beyond the high school level Justice said, “Definitely yes I would. My dream school is Stanford but that is a hard school to get into. I’m open to offers, though.”
She has not yet received any letters or offers from colleges or universities, but that will come the more her name gets around the cross country circles. She has already been featured this year in a Milesplit story and with the possibilities of more state titles, Justice is almost certain to be a collegiate cross country runner following her high school graduation.
Justice is the daughter of Amber Neely and Dennis Justice. She has a brother and sister, Bryson and Ava, that are both students at Alcorn Central High School.