CLINTON – Corinth High School Cross Country came oh-so-close to a fourth straight sweep of the Class 4A state titles Saturday in Clinton.
The Lady Warriors out-distanced second place Mooreville for their fourth consecutive state championship while the Warriors fell just short of No. 4 in a row as they finished a close second to Senatobia.
The Corinth girls now own an even dozen gold state title trophies while the CHS boys can earn number 12 next fall.
“I knew when I took over this program earlier this year that Corinth had a stellar reputation and had a streak of three state titles going,” said Lady Warriors Head Coach Emory Kirk. “I knew we would be ranked number one and all that because of that and the fact that everyone was back. But what has amazed me more than anything is how hungry the girls still were coming into the season and how hard they have worked to get back to this point. Many teams get complacent and take their feet off the pedal, but not our girls.”
“I’m still soaking it all in,” Kirk remarked as she traveled back from Clinton with her state championship team. “For us to win was no surprise. What is surprising is how much the girls still wanted it as they were getting ready to run and as they ran the course. They poured everything into this program to be the best and then went and proved it on the course.”
“It was an absolutely beautiful day for the meet,” she said. “I ran four juniors (Emma Hall, Lexie Faulkner, Lauren Beech and Catherine Grisham), two freshmen (Elsie Wilbanks and Adelyn Mathis) and an eighth-grader (Abby Summers).”
To the coach’s point, this might have been one of the youngest teams ever to win a varsity state cross country championship. However, that would need to be confirmed.
“The great thing is these girls is the motivation they have not only for themselves but for their teammates and the tradition of Corinth Cross Country. We had two that had been sick earlier in the week so we knew that Saturday going into the race those particular girls may not have their best runs. We discussed Friday night in our team meeting that if one of them saw a teammate falling off or struggling then it’s their job to pick it up and step in for that teammate. And as it turns out, that’s exactly what they did. Lexie, Adelyn and Abby all posted personal record (PR) times in the event. I did not have any pack running but I had girls that were seconds from each other when they crossed the finish line,” said Kirk.
The coach added, “I would also say that another big factor Saturday were the extra Corinth runners that were on hand to watch the top seven run. They were able to divide and conquer the trail to cheer and encourage their teammates on. To me that’s what it’s all about; cheering your teammates on because you want to see them perform at their best.”
Hall (with a finish time of 20:28.64) paced the Lady Warriors and finished fifth overall followed by Wilbanks (21:09.40) in seventh and Faulkner (21:47.75) in 10th. All three were named All-State.
Mathis (22:11.84), Beech (22:26.91), Grisham (22:43.51) and Summers (22:49.59) rounded out the CHS finishers.
The Warriors seemed to be in control of making it another Corinth sweep following the girls finish. However, Senatobia had perhaps their best race of the year and edged out the red-and-black by a mere six points.
What makes that so impressive is the way Corinth Head Coach Luke Hatcher described the race turned in by his team on Saturday.
“My boys ran not only their fastest race as a team Saturday, they also ran the fastest as a combined team in the history of Corinth Cross Country,” he said emphatically. “I had five boys run 18 minutes or faster with one of those being a 16:28 – and that’s in a 5K. We knew we would have to run the best we had all season to be in the mix to win another state championship. I couldn’t be more proud of what my boys accomplished as well as how they held their heads high after falling short of their ultimate goal. It’s very hard as a coach to watch your boys hurt and know they have worked so hard to put themselves in a position to win. Even after they finished they cheered our girls on as won another state title.”
As far as Senatobia, and the race they produced, Hatcher added, “They (SHS) ran ‘out of their minds’ good today. We actually came in to the state meet with a game plan on how to beat our rival Pontotoc. Unfortunately, it was Senatobia we needed to be watching for. I tip my hat to them for what they accomplished. They had several runners post their best times of the season, some being 40 seconds faster than their previous bests.”
The Warrior second year head man also pointed out, “I’ve said all along, since taking this job, that Corinth Cross Country is built on so much more than state championships … the programs is build on incredible athletes that love each other and support each other day in and day out.”
“My seven runners had great races and did exactly what I believed we needed to do to come out on top,” hatcher continued. “Parker LeGoff had his best race of the season and put himself in position to chase the individual title. He finished second overall and with a silver All-State medal with a time of 16:29.. Him, Sam Evans, Ricardo Venegas and Andrew Ayala each posted personal record times with each making the All-State Team.”
Evans finished in 17:46.48, Venegas in 17:46.49 and Ayala in 17:48.93. Finishing fifth for the Warriors was Lisandro Martin-Pascual in 18:00.48 followed by JT Draper (18:34.31) in sixth and Will Steward (18:35.39) in seventh for CHS.
“It’s very hard to see such a great season end the way it did for our boys,” said the coach, “but like I heard someone say Saturday after the awards were over and the trophies were handed out ‘If getting second place hurts that much, then the program we have built is moving in the right direction’. Most teams would be overjoyed to get second at state. We were happy and blessed but still had a bad taste in our mouths because six points is very, very close.”
Hatcher and Kirk both closed by saying how much the support of the parents and school administration means to the success of the program.
“I truly believe we have one of the best Booster Clubs in the state,” Hatcher said in conclusion. “They are continually going above and beyond for our runners and we are blessed to have them.. The same goes for our administration. They always support us and help us at every turn.”