Just a couple months removed from leading the Auburn High girls’ cross-country program to its third straight state championship — the first three in team history — Samantha Rogers, Hallie Stewart, Sarah Parnell, Harper McGowan and Gracie Booher made a little more school history.
On Wednesday, all five runners signed with college programs, marking the first time the girls’ cross-country and track and field has ever had five runners sign at the next level.
“Wednesday was a really awesome day for the girls, and I think the program as a whole,” Auburn High coach Olivia Tofani said. “It was just really special to get to celebrate them in front of their student body, other athletes and their families — to get to just brag on all that they’ve done in their time running for Auburn and give them a little bit of a sendoff as they enter the next four years of running at the collegiate level.”
Rogers led the Tigers around the course at the AHSAA Cross-Country Championships in November — finishing second overall — and will be staying local after signing with Auburn University.
Rogers will join her brothers Jack and Evan Rogers as Auburn High turned Auburn University runners. Jack is a junior this year while Evan is a freshman,
“That is just a cool family tradition,” Tofani said. “I feel very fortunate that have her still in the vicinity, just honestly to still kind of have her leadership. (Other athletes) will see her running when she is training and I think for the girls, she has been somebody who is such a role model for them.”
McGowan finished fourth at the state championships this season and will be running a Samford University next season.
“Samford has been her dream school for several years now,” Tofani said. “The fact that she worked so hard with the goal in mind of going to Samford, I am really just excited. They are incredibly lucky to be gaining an athlete as driven and motivated as Harper.”
While Rogers and McGowan are staying in the state for their collegiate careers, Stewart faces a bit of a transition as she has the longest commute to her school of choice. The 12th-place finisher at state this season will continue her running career at Davidson College in Davidson, N.C.
“I’m just excited to have her somewhere where I know that she is so excited for the academic programs that she gets to pursue as well as cross country and track,” Tofani said. “I think that that is just a great change of pace for her. It is a little bit of a smaller school and I think she is just going to thrive in that environment.”
Parnell was the 16th-place finisher at this past season and has signed with the University of Southern Mississippi.
“She not only is excited obviously to run for Southern Miss, but in talking to her and walking through that college decision, she is just in love with that campus and academic programs,” Tofani said. “For her it is going to be great to be in a change of scenery and somewhere new, but as she described it to me, somewhere that feels like home.”
Booher, who was 29th at state, signed with Troy University.
“A year ago, she was getting through injuries and trying to get healthy,” Tofani said. “The fact that within less than a year, she has turned that around and is committed to a Division-I school is really a testament to how hard she works, her drive and motivation.”
With all five athletes charting new paths at new programs, Tofani is excited to track their progress and watch the next generation of Auburn High runners do the same as they hope to follow in their footsteps.