The Memphis area girls cross country group this year has been improving considerably.
Watching some of the races and entries, it appears that more girls are taking up the running sports as well. Yes, soccer probably is still the biggest draw for girls but cross country and track are getting a lot more attention lately. The pandemic may have spurned it on, probably the only thing that got any kind of boost lately. Let's take a dive into the girls "All Heart" or Elite Eight as it might be.
As is almost the norm in most places, the D1 large schools seem to crank out the top runners each season. This year wasn't any different.
Ok, it was different but not in the way we expected.
Ann-Marie Braese and Olivia Barnes of Arlington High School stormed their way to the top of the local rankings. Ann-Marie has continued to improve each year. She took another minute off her time this season. More importantly though, she took that huge step of going sub-18 this season, continuing to rack up wins in the process.
Posting a 17:58.81 and just before the Region 8 and State meet which proved she was geared up to do well at the season ending meets. She was even able to get a little one up on the competition that took the win from her at the Frank Horton race on her home turf by finishing a little ahead of the same athlete at the state meet. I wonder... might just be a bit of a look at really how competitive this girl can be!! I'd say this was a very good season for Ann-Marie.
And literally, less than a couple seconds behind Ann-Marie is her teammate Barnes.
From a coach's perspective, having two girls that are capable - and do - run sub-18 is not a bad thing at all.
Running a 17:59.59 is about as close as you possibly can get to breaking the 18-minute barrier, but the fact is, it's under 18! From a competitor standpoint, it's got to push you to be the best.
This future Tennessee Vols runner had almost what you could call a break out season of her own. Her 2019 season didn't see her break 20 and this year under 18, that's mammoth improvement to say the least!
And considering there wasn't a 2020 track season to fine tune the speed, that's really impressive. No doubt, dedication to the sport makes all the difference. It should be interesting to see what she can do on the track this spring.
Of course, if you've been around the cross country scene in the Memphis area, the name Allison Newman is very familiar. Allison hails from the St. George's team, which is in the DII small school division.
But there is nothing small about her performances. Those performances specifically are something that track and cross country purists can just flat out adore.
By that I mean the ones that say it doesn't matter the division, D1, DII, Class 6A, AAA, whatever the thing, you run, you compete, you win!
Division, classes - it's the head to head... time... place. That's all that matters. All Cross country courses are different, none are the same, but head to head competition, that's where the purists thrive!
Allison has never been shy of competition, no matter where it came from. Her win at the Jesse Owens this year helped her on the way to set her new PR of 18:02.51, almost joining the Arlington girls with a sub 18. That was in early October.
This 2020 year was somewhat of a slow year for some. Allison ran the indoor circuit early on and set PR's for the 800, Mile, 3000, and Two Mile distances and then set that 18:02 PR in cross country. What can you say... prolific career... dedicated athlete... competitor is what best describes this athlete. Missouri is getting one heck of a runner!
Oh, yea, we didn't see her run in the state meet for a reason. A twisted ankle near the end of the season took her out of the Region meet and she didn't recover enough to run at State. Now, I can't imagine what the Newman household felt like as the State meet approached... nothing worse than a super competitive athlete being restrained!!
But who knows, with the track season in sight, when those restraints come off, there could be fireworks!
through some of the other athletes making this elite list is Allison's
teammate, Lauren Rutlin. Lauren took the
lead for the team at the Region meet for the D2 small schools and won that
event. Lydia Tankersley of Houston was
the first girl across the finish behind the Arlington girls from this area. Lydia's performance helped propel the Houston
girls team to a fifth place overall spot at the State championship.
And as always, it seems the Houston girls just come around when the stakes are high. They consistently run in close packs at meets. Their 1-5 split at the state meet was only 1:39, which was the second best among the top five girl's teams at state. Zoe Marsh was the second fastest for that team, and she's only a freshman.
Oh, am I hearing a quiet sigh from the competition... Then Grace Gibson, Emma Thweatt, and Anissa Pokorny-Yadav rounded out the top five for them. Emma is another freshman and broke 20 at state. Um... wondering how this team will be doing in the future... take a guess!
Gracey Owens didn't have her best day at State, but still ranks way up in the Memphis area girls with her 18:59 and top 10 finish at the Frank Horton this year. I've always said that one race, no matter the stakes, doesn't dictate how strong a season an athlete has. Sure, everyone wants to do well in the end of season big races, things happen.
I recall back on some days when I was training for a marathon. I was in the best shape of my running career with PR's at all distances leading up to that race. Two weeks before, I stepped in a hole and twisted my ankle and knee. I looked like I had a cantaloupe for an ankle and a watermelon for a knee! I drove to the race, hobbled to the start line, then went home... it was a terrible feeling to be hurt before a big race like that.
So anything can happen leading up to race. And anything can happen during a race too! That's why one race isn't the tell all for a season.
Maggie Roy of Bartlett is the top girl for that team this year posted a 19:30 PR which is a considerable improvement from last year. There are several others in the area that are top runners but this year it seemed Houston and Arlington were the high-volume leaders among the D1 athletes.
Before finishing up, here's a quick run-down of some of the D2 girls from this season. Elizabeth Moody of St. Mary's can probably get the award for most improved as she went from a best of over 22 last years in cross country to a 19:19 PR this season. This girl seems to be just starting in the running career and needs to be on the watch list for sure. Although Jessica Joshi, another St. Mary's runner is someone we've already been watching for a while, she set a solid 19-flat PR this year and seems to be poised to have one heck of a senior year.
A couple of Briarcrest bookends need to be mentioned here as well.
Senior Felicity Bost ran a 19:41 this season to lead the way for the Saints this season. Felicity transferred to the school for her junior year and then, like us all, got hit with the terrible 2020 track season that never happened.
She also was hit with a bit of an illness her late sophomore season, so has had to re-invent herself to get into the competitive mode that she has always been used to. It's almost like you want to add this to the lyrics of that one song, I forgot the name but it goes something like... If I didn't have bad luck, I wouldn't have luck at all... well, that's not really the case with this competitive senior, that intensity never left and this Memphis signee though has more than a little desire to hit the track this spring and bust out some elite performances.
Oh, and if the name sounds familiar, it should, she started out by setting the middle school 2K xc record at the Memphis Twilight several years back. I'm looking forward to track season for sure!
On the other end of the bookend with Felicity and just a few seconds behind, is freshman teammate, Aubrey Park. Never really having been involved in running competitively that much, the Covid spring isolation pushed her out on her feet just so she could get out and do something. Her first cross country 5K ended up in 23:19. Ok, that's a finish, not bad. But it was a small race and a top ten place. However, top tens have this tendency to kindle some interest for sure!
Another race, almost 3 minutes faster and a couple spots better. Then she hits the Frank Horton, a meet that tends to bring out the big guns, which it did. No intimidation here, so might just as well run out front. Ok, for the first half mile or so it was fun, then reality sunk in and a more conservative pace helped that as well. A top 30 spot at this prestigious race and we can be assured that single digit finishes are in this young athlete's future!
Probably not necessary to say, but you know me, I'm going to anyways... there is a bright future for cross country with a lot of younger athletes in the mix.
Cross country takes a lot. A lot of training, a lot of time, a lot of effort, a lot of mental intensity. It takes all your heart if you want to push yourself to be competitive at the highest level you can.
That's also the beauty of cross country. Maybe you win, maybe it's at the end of the pack. But if you are willing to put in the effort, the results will show. Along with those results... well, you get to smile at your accomplishments! A well-earned smile for sure!!
Here is the "All Heart" elite eight for D1 schools (combined large and small school divisions):
- Ann-Marie Braese, 17:58.81
- Olivia Barnes, 17:59.59
- Lydia Tankersley, 18:29.00
- Gracie Owens, 18:59.85
- Gracie Gibson, 19:16.26
- Maggie Roy, 19:30.50
- Shelby Udovich, 19:30.81
- Zoe Marsh, 19:36.02
- Team: Houston (they run races closely in packs and seem to feed off each other's success, that's a good formula for winning)
Here's the list for the D2 schools (also combined):
- Allison Newman, 18:02.51
- Lauren Rutlin, 18:12.15
- Jessica Joshi, 19:00.0
- Elizabeth Moody, 19:19.00
- Felicity Bost, 19:41.00
- Aubrey Park, 19:53.00
- Sarah Elizabeth Rowland, 20:06.53
- Maggie Wilson, 20:23.00
- Team: St. George's (even without Allison running, they seem to find ways to win, and I give Briarcrest the runner up spot here too)
Hope to see everyone on the track this season!