In one year, the Snow Hill girls cross country team went from barely fielding a team to competing against the best 1A teams.
The runners came in dead last in the 2014 Bayside Championship, 219 points off first place.
Thursday’s Bayside Championships at Cambridge-South Dorchester, the Eagles finished below expectations in seventh, but only 122 off the winning North Caroline team, 69 points off Stephen Decatur, who was the highest placed Bayside South group and 11 points away from the highest 1A squad, Cambridge-South Dorchester.
“It’s gratifying as a coach when you see a group of runners that have potential, and they actually are putting in the work to become that great team,” third-year head coach Knita Cartwright said.
With seven new runners and four returning, Cartwright and boys head coach William Meekins have applied a variety of teaching points.
The students, well they’re trying to absorb as much as they can.
“I’ve never been a part of a team as dedicated and competitive as this one,” junior Emily McAllister said. “I’ve played on sports teams my entire life.”
McAllister has run for the past three years and was the undisputed best runner on the Eagles team last season.
But with the introduction of Emily Mast, McAllister has had someone to chase, and it’s pushed her to get better.
“I’ve never had anyone that’s been close to me in the past,” McAllister said. “Like last season, I was running like a 22 and 23 all season, and the next runner was a 26. So I didn’t have someone always right there with me to push me and make me faster.”
McAllister still leads the pack, but Mast, also a junior, has a 10-second personal record over McAllister’s best on the season (21:41).
Mast was a needed addition to the team, making the switch from soccer last year.
She learned right away from Cartwright that running for fun is different than in a competition. The coaches have stressed the mental side of the game.
Whether it’s breaking down the mile times to show what needs improvement, or just having the will to push ahead, Mast said cross country doesn’t even feel like a physical sport sometimes.
“Running, it’s kind of more a mental sport than a physical sport,” she said. “You obviously have to have the physical capabilities, but if you don’t think you have them then you’re not going to perform like you have them.
“When you go into a race, you have to give yourself the mindset that you are going to do well. You are going to catch the person ahead of you.”
But it’s not just Mast and McAllister who can challenge each other. Now, every runner is paired with someone to chase.
Third-fastest runner, sophomore Chloe Holland, is always telling herself to “catch the Emilys.”
Holland joined the team on a whim last year, but has enjoyed the progress this season.
“Last year, it wasn’t as competitive,” she said. “You know freshman year, you’re like, ‘plotting ways, how do I get out of this?’ But this year, it’s a lot better. There are people pushing you. You have to work hard in practice, work hard in meets.”
The higher numbers have helped the team even out, giving everyone someone to chase, and the runners are starting to learn the best run practices and push through the pain.
The results are showing.
For the first time in 25 years, the Eagles are running to win.
The last time the girls cross country won anything was 1990 when Snow Hill won the Bayside Championship and the 1A East regionals.
“That’s what we’re trying to bring back,” Cartwright said.
The 2015 regional will be on Nov. 5, and the Eagles have a good chance of bringing that home. Cambridge-South Dorchester is the likely the team in the way.
With new motivation and an up-to-date outlook on how to successfully run, it’s safe to say the Eagles are back.
On Twitter/Instagram: @ByRyanMarshall