The goal never changes for the Thompson Warrior boys and girls cross country teams when they head into a season.
“Our goal is to qualify for state,” said Thompson cross country coach Chris Schmidt.
Doing that in the Class 7A Section 3, easily the most talent filled in the state, has never been easy. The top three teams from each section advance to the state championships. Schmidt said he doesn’t think a Thompson High cross country has ever pulled off the feat but added that it’s a “realistic” goal.
His optimism is fueled by a productive summer and growing rosters during his first full year-long cycle as the program’s head coach.
“We’re still cranking up those miles,” Schmidt said. “They are just flying compared to last year. They’re figuring out, that ‘Hey, we’ve got to train at sub-7 minute mile pace. On workout days, we have to go five minutes or 5:30. We can’t train at 8 minutes and expect to run 5:30.’”
On the boys’ side, junior Brandon Lee and sophomore Jace Jones are setting the pace. Lee set the school record as a sophomore last season, running a 15:58, according to Schmidt. Jones is new to cross country at Thompson High but he had the 12th best freshman time nationally in the mile last spring.
“We’re expecting good things (from Lee) this year,” Schmidt said. “Honestly, all-state again, but, hopefully a little higher up there in marks and all that. (Jones is) starting to see the light and starting to figure out cross country. I expect good things from him, down the road, he’ll make a huge impact. He has the capability to be all-state this year.”
The next group includes Thomas Cousins, Jacob Alcorn, Chandler Ferguson, Max Lowery and Josh Cofield.
On the girls’ side, McKenzie Hogue is out front. Hoque, a first year cross country runner, broke the school record in the mile and two-mile in outdoor track.
“She’s even faster now,” Schmidt said. “She’s a junior and I expect great things. Five goals: All-State, top 10, top five, top three and let’s go for the whole shebang. I’m not going to be greedy but that’s huge to have a girl that finished all-state in (Class 7A Section) with the Hoover girls, Mountain Brook girls, Vestavia girls.”
Freshman Ryleigh Easterling was the Warriors’ top varsity runner at the Sectionals last season as an eighth grader. Emily Allen is another freshman who competed at the Sectionals as an eighth grader last season. Schmidt also expects big things from sophomore Abby Walker and junior Danielle Keene. Schmidt said newcomer Jenna Mitchell could be “top three on the team.”
All of the talent adds up to a promising outlook.
“On paper, we come back in sixth place in (Class 7A Section 3),” Schmidt said. “But you throw in McKenzie and you throw in Mitchell and some of our other girls, we could be a third, fourth team if we play our cards right. I’m really excited about that.”
Schmidt said hard work and commitment is the key.
“It’s going to be based on what our girls are willing to put in,” Schmidt said. “They’ve had a great summer .Some went to camps this summer and got to run with the Mountain Brook girls and Hoover girls and all that. It was an eye opener. That was a great experience for them this summer. Hopefully, that carries on for them during the season. Hopefully, we’ll have a team – if not both teams – qualify for state.”
The Warriors began the season on Friday in the Montevallo Early Bird Twilight. For Schmidt, as well as assistant coaches Mason Dye and Katie Vanover, it’s a good chance to gauge where both teams are at to begin the year.
“The culture is changing,” Schmidt said. “We’re excited. We feed off each other. Right now, it’s a good time to be a Warrior. “