Three Thompson High athletes will be chasing an AHSAA Cross Country state title on Saturday at Oakville Indian Mounds Park. Junior McKenzie Hogue is one of the 7A favorites on the girls’ side and junior Brandon DeMarcus Lee and sophomore Jace Jones should be among the lead pack on the boys’ side.
The girls’ 7A winner is expected to be decided in a three-way duel, which includes Hogue, McGill-Toolen’s Grace Jensen and Auburn’s Samantha Rogers. All three competed against each other on the same course earlier this season at the Jesse Owens Cross Country Classic. On that day, Jensen finished second overall with a time of 18:07.88, Rogers was fourth at 18:17.02 and Hogue was sixth at 18:32.35.
Hogue is peaking at the right time.
“She’s had an amazing, amazing past few weeks,” said Thompson cross country coach Chris Schmidt. “Hopefully, she can pull it off. She’s in great shape.”
Included in her amazing past few weeks was the fastest time at the AHSAA 7A Section 3 meet at Veterans Park in Hoover. Hogue finished in 19:17.87, which was more than 28 seconds faster than the next runner.
For Hogue it’s been a wonderful journey through her first cross country season.
“It’s been fun, just watching her,” Schmidt said. “I knew she was going to be good, I was hoping she was going to be great, but, I didn’t how great she could be. Every time she races, it’s almost like Christmas, you know something big is going to happen. You just don’t know exactly what it will be.”
On Saturday, Schmidt knows what present he would like.
“I’d love to see her win it, but she’s racing some great competitors,” Schmidt said. “Either way, we’re very happy for the entire season she’s had. I’d love to get the cake and the ice cream.”
Lee was the top runner on the Thompson boys’ team most of the season. He was slowed down recently with a hip flexor injury and finished 12th overall in last week’s sectional meet. Fortunately, that finish was good enough for him to advance and Jones stepped into the spotlight.
“Jace came out of his shell at Sectionals,” Schmidt said “At a half mile to go, I was expecting to see Brandon and the next thing I know I got Jace in second place. That was huge.”
Jones finished in a time of 16:44.73, trailing only Vestavia Hills’ James Sweeney (16:20.30). Lee finished in 17:06.58.
Lee took a couple of days off since the sectional meet and is receiving treatment daily. Schmidt expects him to be ready and also expects big things from Jones and Lee. He said they both could realistically finish in the top five and his hope is a 2-3 finish, between prohibitive favorite Sweeney.