Early Saturday evening, I found myself on Forest Hill Irene road in a pretty long line of cars making my way into the Mike Rose Soccer complex. Guess that isn't an unusual occurrence for this venue with soccer being a very popular sport in the area. And for those of you that know me, you know that I'm not very fond of sitting in lines for anything, let alone a soccer game. But you know I wasn't there for soccer, I was one of thousands of people heading up to the Brooks Twilight Cross Country Classic. This is a cross country meet that is, and this is really an understatement, huge! Middle School teams, JV and Varsity High School teams and several College teams make this event a part of their schedule every single year. Yep, it's Labor Day weekend and what better way to celebrate this holiday than to go through a bit of work to park your car and watch these athletes employ their talents across a very spectator friendly and fast course.
Coach Winders was considering skipping the Brooks classic this year so he can watch his oldest son, Javan, run in his first college meet. One of those decisions a father has to make. And when you're the coach of a high school cross country team, those decisions occasionally become a bit difficult to make. But as luck would have it, Javan's plans for the race change from racing to a strong workout and so Coach Winders decided to make the trip to the Brooks Twilight with his team.
Titus Winders took that trip and made sure the ride home was fun. When the gun went off, Titus was around the top ten or fifteen athletes going into the first half mile or so. Of course, the pack was very tight at that point and so that wasn't but a second off the time. Then he decided it was time to go a bit faster and he surged to the front for a while. According to him, about the second mile he looked over his shoulder and realized he had a pretty sizable lead. But the problem was, he was feeling really good at the time. So not someone to sit on the lead, he picked up the pace again and stretched out his lead almost to the point that when he was nearing the finish line in the soccer stadium, the second place runner was coming around the first turn in the stadium. That's about a thirty second lead in this 5K race! What's even more impressive about this race - he bettered his older brother's - who did happen to be there watching - time at this race by about three seconds! Well, I'm guessing there's some friendly ribbing that went on for that long ride home to Paris TN Saturday night.
The second place finisher was Brookwoods Zunair Manzoor. What's even more impressive about Titus's win was that Zunair is no slouch by any means. He has a 9:50 3200 and this Snellville Georgia athlete also can run a 4:44 in the 1600. Zunair set a new PR to get into the silver spot at this race by almost 40 seconds with his final 15:50.47.
Starkville High's Lake Spradling was third with a 15:52.33. Lake happens to be the top ranked Mississippi returning cross country athlete. That ranking was with a 16 flat time and so he betters that by a few seconds and now sits comfortably in the top ranking in this early part of the season.
Ryan Parson (Farmington) also set a PR getting into fourth with his 15:55.36. Having a sub 2 minute 800 and a 4:19 in the 1600 on the track, it was only a matter of time before Ryan broke under that 16 threshold. Will Stone (Homewood) bagged the fifth spot with the last sub 16 time of the night with a 15:55.94. That too was a PR for Will and puts him in the top ten for Alabama cross country runners. All top five finishers went under 16 at this meet. Last year we had three sub 16's. That's exactly what this race is for, fast times to get a jump start on your season!
Since this is a Memphis based race, I'd like to point out some of the top local finishers. The first local finisher was no surprise in Christopher Rayder of Houston High. Christopher ran about 6 seconds faster than what he did last year at the meet. That is a bit off his PR for the distance though, so I'm guessing he may have been sitting back a bit so he doesn't get re-injured at the beginning of the season. Sena Murray was the second local finisher for the boys in 16:35. The Arlington senior took about 20 seconds off his time from last year, and coming off a team win in Mississippi the weekend before, certainly is a good sign that Sena is making a strong run this season. Ryan Redman, Sena's teammate and also a senior, was next up for the locals with a tie of 16:39.27. And coming in at the fourth local spot is Luke McNair of Bartlett. Luke ran a 16:40.64 and that by the way was a huge improvement on last years' time here - by almost 40 seconds. That still isn't Luke's PR for the distance, but a forty second improvement to start the season off is certainly a mark that makes him one athlete to watch this season.
I was told Bartlett is making a resurgence with the cross country team and with Luke leading the way and a group of guys on the team that do seem to be running times pretty close to each other, they may be one team to keep an eye on. They've got some work to do if they want to better the Houston team, especially if Christopher is running well, but if I were Houston, I'd be sure to look in the rear view mirror occasionally.
The girl's varsity race was all it was hyped up to be, a fast race with very fast athletes tackling the distance. Kate Mattox, Ella Baran, Erica Fisher, Madison Leigh and Morgan Claire Rose made up the top five athletes crossing the finish line for the girls. There were eight girls under 19 in this year's version of the Brooks Classic which was three better than last year. Kate's finishing time of 18:08.91 was one of the fastest and actually is ranked about the fifth fastest ran at this meet. If I'm not mistaken, the top five girls at this race posted some all-time best times and will shake up the overall best list for the varsity girls.
Kate is out of Starkville MS is a State champion track athlete and state champion in MS cross country meet as well. She showed her talent here at the Brooks and finished with a commanding lead of a bit over 20 seconds. Even though it is early in the season, she now holds the top ranking for cross country girls in Mississippi, the same ranking she finished the last season with too! She surely is poised to keep that ranking again this season!
Second place finisher, Ella Bara is also another athlete not that uncomfortable at the top of the podium. Ella ran almost twenty seconds faster this Saturday than last season and was able to move up a few spots from a fifth place finish last year to this runner up spot. With a 5 minute speed in the track 1600 and 11:02 in the 3200, her 18:30.06 performance Saturday puts her in a good spot to be feared come later in the season as she approaches the steeplechase course in Nashville. Now, Arlington sophomore Erica Fisher just threw her name in the mix to be a runner to watch out for in that Nashville meet in November. Erica's 18:31.08 was a good strong PR for the distance and head over heels better finish than her performance at the Brooks last season.
If you were lucky enough to be in the stadium for the finish, then you saw Kate, Ella and Erica storm through the finish line. It was absolutely amazing to see the athlete entering the stadium and giving their all to cross that finish line ahead of whoever might be next to them. Sprint finishes and all out efforts to be ahead at the finish! This race is early in the season. But there is unquestionably no doubt whatsoever that these athletes were giving it their all every step. And as I mentioned, eight girls under 19 at this meet. 18:53.44 for Hoover's Ava Weems, 18:47.37 for Homewood's Lainey Phelps, 18:428 for Brookwood's Lauren Flynt, 18:41.33 for Kirk Academy's Morgan Claire Rose and 18:40.83 for Madison Leigh from Francis Howell.
And by the way, Houston turned in the best local team finish and Arlington the second best. Might be interesting to watch how this season turns out! Davies County stood at the top of the team standings at this meet with a very close run over Brookwood. Davies County averages 19:42.33 for their top five and Brookwood a very close 19:44.89.
Going back to the first race of the day, the Middle School girls, Dinah Winders took the third place about 7 seconds behind winner Lydia Snopek of Madison Middle and a blink of an eye behind Gabrielle Boulay of the Nashville Youth Athletics group. Both coach Ally's do a great job with the NYA group and it showed here for sure. The NYA group took second in the team race against a super strong Houston Middle team lead by Felicity Bost and teammates Lydia Tankersley, Madeline Harreld, Lindsey Dismuke and Agustina Naldoza. The Houston girls averaged 7:31.06 for the 2K distance! I'm just wondering if maybe Dinah's third place sprint finish might just have spurred Titus on to up his sister in his race! Well, just a thought!
In the boy's middle school race, Coach Brandon and Hollee had to be beaming with pride as their boys team ran to a 1,2,3,4 and 8th place finishes within the team competition. With an average time for each of the runners at about 6:31 pace, that's one heck of a group of young athletes. And that includes a sixth grader in that top five group. Nick Sieders (6:18.85) lead off the team with Caydon Drrough (6:22.80) and Conner Henson (6:27.98) making up the top three overall finishers in the meet for the team.
I remember talking with meet director Bill Hoffman of Christian Brothers University about the timing of this meet. There was discussion about changing the time and making it later in the season so it's more competitive. There was also talk about the weather this time of the year. Well, no need to change the date and the weather, well, not something to worry about since nobody has control over it. This year's Brooks Classic by Brooks had great weather, great atmosphere and no doubt a step above when it comes to great athletes! We really need to thank Bill and Christian Brothers University for hosting this meet and to Brooks for being the major sponsor! This meet puts Memphis area cross country on the national map. This also sets the bar very high for the CBU team to top next year's meet! I plan to be at this meet next year... so should you!
See you on the track... and of course, the grass!