They run this town…literally
By LAUREN JETTE
A herd of pounding feet kick up clouds of dust, while heavy breathing and words of encouragement break through the early morning quiet. Another season of cross country has begun for the Liberty Hill Panthers.
After a disappointing finish for the girls team at the state meet last year, where the Lady Panthers took third place after winning the regional championship, the team is looking to rebound with a better season.
“I think that was disappointing for a lot of us,” said senior Tabitha Bowles. “It’s just fueling us now. It’s just a goal to reach to get better than that.”
Teammate and fellow senior Mikayla Stiles said she already sees renewed determination in the team in early practices.
“We’re definitely going to practice a lot harder, push each other,” Stiles said. “I can already see improvement in every one wanting to improve on our finish last year. We were really happy to be at state, but we didn’t have the finish that we wanted. But, I can already see some of the freshmen stepping up, juniors, sophomores and even some of the seniors are really pushing themselves this year, so I’m excited for both the girls and the boys to see how we finish out this year.”
Coach Kim Holt said the girls team uses last year’s disappointment as a reason to work hard this year.
“A lot of them were very disappointed in that, so they see it and they’re motivated to do better on their own,” she said. “It doesn’t take a lot to motivate those varsity girls who have been there three years, because they know that last year we had a chance and the team we beat at regionals, beat us at state. They have a lot of self-motivation.”
While most of their friends are still at home, asleep in bed, these runners are up and working not long after the sun comes up in the morning.
“We have a goal to make it to state as last year and the year before that,” Stiles said. “This time we want to win first place, so we all have that fire underneath us and we all get up together as a team and get out here and do it and it’s more of a team, encouraging each other and pushing each other as one.”
Bowles said while most of the team keeps running and stays in shape during the summer before practices start, it’s easier to keep up a good pace when the team runs together in practice.
“When you’re running as a team, you tend to run faster because you’re trying to stay up with those people, so starting team running and team practices gets everybody to a faster pace and to a higher level than you would be (at) by yourself.”
Cross country may seem like an individual sport to the casual observer, but there is a team component to the races.
“A lot of people think of it as just an individual sport because it’s just you running, you’re not passing the ball to another teammate or anything,” Bowles said. “But it’s really more of a team sport because you really have to push your teammates in races and you can’t just pass them, you have to say, ‘hey, keep up with me’ because the closer you are when you finish the (better chance) you have to win first place.”
There’s also more to the races than just being physically fit enough to run the course.
“It’s definitely mental as well as physical,” Stiles explained. “You have to push yourself, but you also have to push yourself as a team and you have to fight because it’s really hard to stay going, but you have each other and the mental ability to keep running and not stop.”
As with any sport at Liberty Hill, expectations are high for the upcoming season.
“We have high expectations for both teams,” Holt said. “First off is to win district, and the top four teams go to state, so the expectation there is to be one of those four teams at regionals that make it to state, but for the girls, I believe that they could win regionals again. The goal is to make it to state, but they also want to be regionals champs. They were regional champs two years in a row, so we’ll see.”
Holt is also expecting a better season from the boys side.
“The boys didn’t make it (to state) last year, but they’ve had some newcomers come in, so they’re striving to make it there,” Holt said. “For them, they didn’t have a good race at regionals (last year), so they see that they want to do better (this year).”