SKYLAND – On a muggy afternoon in early August, the Roberson girls cross country team sat and stretched before practice, going around in a circle and introducing themselves.
Many faces on the team were new, including coach Tom Ferguson.
Ferguson was tapped to replace former head coach Dave Culp following Culp’s resignation in December.
As the runners transition from summer to preseason, Ferguson is adjusting to his new role with the historically successful team. And though Culp, who led the Rams to five NCHSAA 3-A state championships, has left big shoes to fill, Ferguson said that both Culp and the team have made the transition smooth.
“It’s a really experienced team, it’s got great traditions and a history of success,” Ferguson, a longtime teacher at Roberson, said. “It’s been a little intimidating, but it’s been really incredible. Dave’s been great with helping me figure out workouts and exactly what to do. And the kids are really helpful, too.”
Ferguson said that getting to know the athletes, who he called “all-around awesome people,” has been the highlight of his new job.
But Ferguson isn’t the only new face that’s going to make an impact on the squad this season.
Junior Elise Wright is prepping for her first cross country season with the Rams after transferring from Veritas Christian Academy mid-sophomore year. Wright transferred to Roberson specifically for the opportunity to run with a large program.
On the track team this spring, Wright contributed to several successful relays while performing well individually, including an eighth place finish in the 800 meters at the NCHSAA 4-A championship. To prepare for cross country season, Wright said she’s been logging miles, biking and setting goals.
“I want to get a new PR,” Wright said. “My current PR is about 19:40, and I’ve done better than that in practice. I really want to get below 19 (minutes), and 18, but 18 is ambitious.”
Wright’s PR is 19:48 to be exact, according to MileSplit.com. Based on last year’s times, Wright’s current PR would place her second on Roberson’s squad, and a sub-19 time would move her into the number one slot.
But sub-19, let alone sub-18, is a challenging goal. Only two runners in the state ran sub-19 times at the 4-A state championship last year.
In addition to Wright, Ferguson said he’s also excited about ninth grader Jordan Dalton, an athlete who Ferguson said “just keeps going.”
Wright and Dalton join a core group of returning talent for the Rams, headlined by sophomore Ashlyn Blakely, who finished 24th at the state championship last fall. The Rams will also return Abby Methvin, Sarah Lewis, Iris Howell and Melina Pearson, all top runners for the team in 2015.
Roberson finished fifth at the 2015 4-A west regional meet, missing the team qualification for the state championship. This season, runners both new and returning have their sights set on qualifying.
“At the beginning of the year, at our first meeting, I had everybody write down their goals on an index card,” Ferguson said. “A lot of them said, ‘Go to state.'”
Ferguson, too, has high hopes for this year’s squad.
“They’re focused, they’re driven, they work hard,” Ferguson said.