The Auburn High girls’ cross-country team is looking to carve out a bit of history this Saturday when the Tigers head up to Oakville’s Indian Mounds Cross-Country Course.
The team will take part in the State Cross-Country Championships with eyes on a third consecutive state title.
The Tigers will be going for the three-peat without last season’s Class 7A state champion and current Auburn University runner Hannah Dyal, but coach Olivia Tofani is confident that this year’s bunch can reclaim its spot as the state’s best.
“We are going for the three-peat,” Tofani said. “It is definitely going to be a challenge. They know that they are not going to walk in and automatically get that first-place trophy. The goal is to win. We are going in expecting that to be the outcome.”
A big reason for that confidence is that despite losing Dyal, the rest of the team that delivered last year’s title remains intact. That group is led by four seniors with Samantha Rogers, Harper McGowan, Hallie Stewart and Sarah Parnell.
“It has been really cool to see their leadership trickle down to where the whole team’s mentality has been positively impacted by it,” Tofani said.
That group dominated at last Friday’s sectional race at Kiesel Park in Auburn with Rogers and McGowan finishing first and second and Stewart and Parnell taking fourth and fifth. In fact, as a team Auburn had eight of the top ten finishers at the sectional.
“I really think that this week was a big confidence boost for the team,” Tofani said. “I think that the girls did a really good job of running together instead of letting themselves get separated.”
While they are firmly focused on the goal of another team title, the Tiger runners are also targeting some individual marks in hopes of having an Auburn runner on top of the individual podium for a second straight year. McGowan has finished fourth and sixth the last two seasons and Rogers took fifth and third in the same races.
“I want to have one more go at the course that everyone loves so much,” McGowan said. “I’m excited.”
While the girls look for three-straight, the Auburn boys’ goal is top-three.
With a much younger team than their female counterparts, the boys have seen plenty of growth this season and that culminated with a dominant performance at sectional on Friday where they had seven of the top-10 runners in their sectional.
“I feel like the kids are really just buying into a pack mentality,” Auburn boys’ coach Tony Benitez said. “We just want to maintain a good pack between our No. 1 and our No. 7 runner and try to keep it a tight bunch. That is what we are going to need when we go to the state meet.”
Junior Stewart Brown led the Tiger boys with a third-place finish behind Smiths Station’s Savian Taylor and Central-Phenix City’s Sean Dorrill. Brown, who was limited in last season’s state championships with injury, is looking forward to a major improvement from his 42nd-place finish last season.
“We have put in a lot of training and we’ve had some rough meets this season, but usually at state it all comes together and the boys show up when they need to,” Brown said. “I’m not that concerned about it. I think everyone is ready.”
The top five placers at sectionals for Auburn were all non-seniors with freshman Maxwell Hardin taking fourth and juniors Jeffery Blair, Mark Foster and Aubrey Lake all finishing in the top eight. While Benitez realizes that this might not be the year that Auburn pushes for the state title, he does hope to see his team climb into the top three on the podium.
“My team is primarily made up of juniors and I have a couple freshmen running in my top seven so I think we are about a year away,” Benitez said. “This year, there are a couple really tough teams ahead of us which are senior laden, but I think a top-three finish for us would be great.”
Brown isn’t putting a cap on what this team can achieve.
“I don’t think there is any reason we should be any lower than third place,” Brown said. “First is obviously the goal. I think it is just going to be just us, Vestavia and Huntsville [competing] for the win.”
Below is a complete list of area runners who will be compete at the 2019 State Cross-Country Championships in Oakville on Saturday:
Auburn High: Girls — Gracie Booher, Lessye Gray, Mary Elizabreth Hadley, Sangie Lincoln-Velez, Harper McGowan, Elizabeth Nist, Sarah Parnell, Samantha Rogers, Hallie Stewart, Olivia Tole. Boys — Cole Arrington, Jeffrey Blair, Stewart Brown, Mark Foster, Maxwell Hardin, Aubrey Lake, Cody Nichols, Thomas Parnell, Nathan Stewart.
Beauregard: Girls — Molly Conway, Cheyenne Dean, Tatiana Martinez, Catherine Wiggins, Josie Wiggins, Shakiyah Winston. Boys — Ryan Adams, James Conway, Joshua Len, Joseph Perrella, Justin Pierce, Stewart Wiggins.
Central-Phenix City: Girls — Emma Berg, Kailey Brougham, Adley Burkes, Abigail Garner, Coco Meacham, Jordan Melton, Blair Ross, Haley Wilson. Boys — Antonio Crisco, Sean Dorrill, Clayton Harlow, Brodie Norred, Connor Ramones, Jackson Ramones, Andrew Scarborough, Terry Scott, Ryan Smith.
Dadeville: Boys — Jordan Ford.
Opelika: Girls — Julicia Beard, Margaret Bice, Susan Gaston, Breckin Gould, Jhenny Hoover, Paola Torres. Boys — Chas Brewer, Alberto Cordovo, Benjamin Estes, Kadiri Gates, Evan Goodman, Michael Hart, Jack O’Quinn, Zalen Shaw, Winston Tufts, Jake Walters.
Smiths Station: Girls — Avery Coleman, Amaya De La Cruz, Jasmine Garcia, Aubrey Hallam, Makayla Howard, Raily Prins, Abigain Ray, Rhiannon Sevier, Emmarie Zeh, Jaelee Zeh. Boys — Regan Bailey, Kaiden Baxley, Blake Brukhardt, Gaven Copopy, Tyler Cox, Gage Dubberly, Jaxon Prins, TJ Sanders, Savian Taylor, Jaydon Threatt.
Tallassee: Boys — Baxlee Burton, Woodrow Dean, Alex Harrison, Brady Mason, Caleb Mason, Grant McCraney, Jacob Patterson.
Valley: Boys — Dylan Landreth.