Lawrence Co. girls best in Class 3A-4A
By Michael Wetzel
OAKVILLE — The Lawrence County High girls cross country team was a little giddy Saturday afternoon. The girls had good reason to be.
Behind the running of sophomore and team veteran Ari Stephenson, the Lady Red Devils captured the Class 3A-4A state championship cross country championships at the Oakville Indian Mounds and Education Center on Saturday.
“I can’t believe we won it,” Stephenson said.
“We’re so young. But Coach (Stanley) Johnson told us if we ran our hearts out we could win it all.”
Stephenson beat Katie Stewart of Rogers to the tape by less than a second, and the Moulton school won the crown by five points.
But Stephenson wasn’t alone at the finish line.
Seventh-grader Victoria Draper took fifth-place individually, and LCHS eighth-grader Lyndsie Warren finished ninth. Two more spots back in 11th was Samantha Black.
Kerri Lynn Letson crossed the finish line in 18th to contribute valuable points to the team victory.
Stephenson posted a 5-kilometer time of 19 minutes, 35.69 seconds to win the individual championship. She said she felt strong early in the race and broke away about the 2-mile mark.
“We’ve all been training extra hard for the state,” said Stephenson, who finished third in 2006.
“Coach Johnson is always pushing us to run this course every chance we get. We came out here a couple of days. One day, we ran in fast, and jogged the other day, just becoming more accustomed to all the turns and hills.”
Johnson joined in the glee for his team, who last won the state championship in 2003.
“We came in picked to finish about third,” Johnson said. “But the girls didn’t fade. I saw them at the 1,000-meter mark, and they were in specific positions to score. They never faded, and we held off Rogers.
“Rogers has beaten us each time we met this year. We picked the right day to win. We couldn’t have asked for better weather.”
Johnson’s boys team took second behind Randolph of Huntsville for the third straight year.
“Randolph ran a smart race,” Lawrence County senior Collins Montgomery said. “I had my best time of the year (17:14.29, good for fifth place). They were just too strong. I thought we could beat them.”
While most teams at the Oakville course Saturday would be glad to take home the second-place trophy, Johnson said his boys were a bit disappointed.
“This is the last chance for (seniors) Collins and Logan (Underwood),” Johnson said. “I’m elated for the boys, and at the same time saddened by the fact we didn’t get it done. I feel sorry for my seniors.”
Johnson said William McWhorter’s 11th-place finish was vital for securing second.
“William really stepped it up today,” Johnson said.
McWhorter ran the 5K distance in 17:32. Underwood finished 14th at 17:39.
In Class 6A girls, Austin senior Jennifer Dunn scorched the course record with her winning 17:44 time. Kristen Lupton finished 88th.
In Class 6A boys, Hoover’s Patrick McGregor had the fastest time of the day of any runner. The junior ran a 15:38.25, nine seconds ahead of Grissom’s Chase Volinski. Austin’s Matthew Dunn, Jennifer’s younger brother, was 72nd.
Hoover boys won the Class 6A crown and the girls finished second to Mountain Brook.
McGregor, a junior, agreed that his school is best known for its powerhouse football team, but added, “Since we’ve won the state in cross country, if they don’t win it all, I’ll give them an earful the rest of the rest of the year.”
McGregor, who also won the individual title at the Jesse Owens Cross Country Classic in October, said the team will now prepare for the Nike Nationals Southeast Regionals with hopes of making the nationals in Oregon on Dec. 8.
In Class 5A girls, Sally Adams of Decatur ran to a 19:48.53 time, good for 10th. Bree Watkins of Brewer had a time of 20:46 for 28th.
In Class 5A boys, Decatur’s Samuel Hand’s time of 17:58 placed him 40th. Brewer’s Andy Sanford was 43rd.
The area’s other top finishers in Class 3A-4A girls included Meagan Kelley of East Lawrence. Kelley recorded a 21:42 time for 30th. Allison Jay of Clements was 35th.
In Class 3A-4A boys, Ryan Hood of Lawrence County finished 18th with a time of 18:00.50. His teammate Ryne Black was 30th.
In Class 1A-2A girls, Falkville’s Crystal Gibbs came across in seventh. Her time was 20:58. Emily Robbins of Falkville was 12th.
In Class 1A-2A boys, Colby Phillips of Athens Bible paced his team to a third-place finish. His 17:06 time was good for fourth individually.
Justin Blanchard of Falkville had a 17:20 for seventh. Hatton’s Zeke Nichols and Jade Brackin were 11th and 12th, respectively. Hatton finished fourth as a team.
Several college coaches got a firsthand look at the 1,125 high school runners at Oakville on Saturday.
“It’s a great opportunity to see the kids in person and interact with the coaches,” said Troy University’s track coach Jill Lancaster. “There are several kids here who would make us proud to have on our team.”
The Jesse Owens Runners Club Inc. hosted the state meet.
Save $84.50 a year off our newsstand price:
Subscribe today for only 38 cents a day!