Panthers News · Cross Country: Reliable, resilient Spring Hill group headed to state meet

Jordan Alford saw the potential when no one else did. Alford set out six years ago to build a cross country team at Spring Hill.

The group, rag tag by some standards, proved to be reliable and resilient. Those are two key prerequisites in building a cross country team.

Alford’s contingent competes Saturday in the Class 4A State Cross Country Meet in Round Rock. The running coach says of her team’s improbable accomplishment in qualifying for the state meet, that it centers around a lot of hard work and a determination to make dreams come true.

This is only the second cross country team in Spring Hill history to qualify for state.

“This team was put together kind of random. Two of the boys — Austin Martin and Mason Hancock — I’ve had since the 7th grade. During their seventh and eighth grade years we actually didn’t have a team to actually make. In the spring of their 8th grade year we went out recruiting,” Alford explained.

Cross country isn’t a sport for everyone. Many long hours are spent in the solitary confines of one’s own mind while running trails and hopping puddles. A runner must practice sometimes when the elements are less than ideal.

This is where resilience and reliability come into play. Alford knows this well because she’s spent a lifetime running. It’s her passion. And through her tireless effort and ability to recruit, Spring Hill cross country has qualified for state for only the second time in a quarter century.

In addition to Martin and Hancock, the Panthers send Kalen Barlow, Caleb Hutchinson, Nick and Marshall Bodenheimer along with Haden Bray and Craig Hunnicutt. Samantha Schott is the lone Lady Panther representative making the journey to Round Rock.

The Panthers finished fourth out of 24 teams at the regional meet, improving from their 12th place effort in 2017. Schott, who missed making state last year as a freshman by 20 seconds, took fifth individually among a field of 165 female runners. Barlow, meanwhile, crossed eighth overall in the boys division, besting his personal time by 52 seconds. In fact, all seven Panther runners bettered their personal marks at the regional meet.

Overcoming the odds has made this team’s odyssey all the more meaningful, according to Alford.

“We break out saying state. We’ve done that going on four years now. It’s kind of been in our heads and ultimately been our goal. This bunch has also had to overcome my issues,” said Alford, who broke both her feet two years ago and was involved in a car accident last year, which forced her to miss half the running season.

“Parents actually ran the practices and these kids continued. They didn’t give up and dedicated themselves in spite of everything, including when I was out on maternity leave. These are kids I could trust and knew they would do the work required. This has truly been building year after year and is why I believe it’s a story of dreams coming true.”

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This article was provided by The Longview News Journal.