By JUSTIN RAINS
For the fourth time in five years, the Elkhart girls’ cross country team will run in the state meet Saturday, and coach Kodi Huff’s team has loads of big meet experience.
Of the seven runners hitting the course at Old Settlers’ Park in Round Rock Saturday, four of them will have experience at the state meet.
“I think it can help a lot. They know what to expect,” Huff said. “This week we’ve been training on our course, because it’s tough. (State) is the toughest course that we’ve run.”
Anna Clark finished 46th overall for Elkhart last year, while Harley Brim finished 84th. Megan Davis finished 95th and Kayla Johnson 102nd, both as freshmen.
Elkhart’s Paige Huff and Joli Ballew, both freshmen, and Madye Hays are making their first state appearance.
The Class 2A girls’ meet begins at 10:50 a.m.
Also running in this year’s meet will be Neches’ Haley Harroff and Cayuga’s Matthew McNeill, who are each running in their respective Class 1A meet.
This year’s trip is the first to state for both Harroff and McNeill.
The 1A girls’ meet begins at 10 a.m., followed by the boys’ race at 10:20 a.m.
As a team a year ago, Elkhart finished ninth overall, led by the now-departed Amanda Ham. This year’s team is poised to improve on that, and is fueled by the disappointment of not finishing well the past two years.
“I think this year it’s pushed us harder, especially since we’ve lost our top runner,” Clark said. “We want to fill in that spot and want to be able to compete and finish without that one point finish that Amanda gave. We’re wanting to do a lot better than that.”
While it may not have the star power that Ham brought — she won the regional title a year ago and finished in the state’s top-10 the last two years — coach Kodi Huff said this team might be more balanced.
“I think that’s what got us to tie for first place (at regionals),” she said. “We knew six teams, going in, were going to be right there with us. I told the girls that, if it comes down to a sixth-place runner and there are seven teams for three places...what matters is that we’re going to be clumped together. They’re closer, time-wise. Being bunched up like that, it helps them a lot.
Without Ham, the team had a leadership void, one that Clark eagerly took upon herself.
She’s now the one leading the team in pre-race prayer, and has continually tried to lead by example, even running through illness.
“I try to run my hardest no matter what, even when I’m feeling bad,” she said. “I don’t give up, because I don’t want my team to give up.
“If you don’t give up and finish and you gave it you’re all, that’s all you can do and everyone is going to be happy. No regrets.”
Sports editor Justin Rains can be reached via email at email@example.com