Rainy weather moved the quest back 24 hours, but it doesn’t dampen the expectations that Thompson High cross country coach Chris Schmidt has for his athletes as they enter the AHSAA State Sectionals.
The teams, in what is known in the cross country world as the ‘Section of Death’, was set for competition on Thursday at Trussville Country Club. Because of Thursday’s rain, however, the meet was postponed until Friday and will now be at Hewitt-Trussville Stadium.
None of that changes Schmidt’s expectations, particularly on the girls’ side.
“Our girls team, man, they’ve done an outstanding job,” Schmidt said. “They’ve just gotten better and better each week. Realistically, we have a shot to qualify. That can be the first time in school history. We’ve crunched numbers and all that. It’s going to be close. If they run what they’ve been doing, they have a great opportunity to qualify. That would be huge for our program to get to that next level.”
As usual, the Warriors will be led by standout senior McKenzie Hogue, who is one of the state’s top runners. Obviously, she will contend for the sectional title on Friday and Schmidt believes that sophomore Emily Allen and junior Abby Grace Walker have a chance to run among the leaders.
Schmidt said other key runners for his girls’ team include sophomore Ryleigh Easterling, junior Hannah Casey and senior Danielle Keene.
“It’s an opportunity,” Schmidt said. “These moments don’t come that often. When they do you’ve got to jump on them because it could change the entire program.”
On the boys’ side, Schmidt said his team might be a year or two away from challenging to break through. But, the Warriors do have two of the top two runners in the state in senior Brandon DeMarcus Lee and junior Jace Jones.
“Brandon and Jace, the two of them, they’ve shown they are one of the best 1-2 punches in the state,” Schmidt said. “They’re fantastic. I see the two of them qualifying for state, see the two of them being all state and all that. I’m just hoping we can hold out momentum and sneak a third guy up there or something like that.”
No matter what happens on Friday, the Warriors, both the girls and boys, are getting closer to the state’s elite teams.
“We are knocking on the door,” Schmidt said. “Once you break through, it’s just a tradition, it’s habit. If we just get that foot in the door, that one time, it becomes tradition, because everybody wants to be a part of the program that goes to state or be a part of that program competing for a state title. As a coach, it makes life easy. You’re doing the same thing but expectations are higher and the kids just buy in to it.”
He wouldn’t want to be in any other section during that quest.
“If you’re a competitive and top coach in the state, your goal is to be in the ‘Section of Death’,” Schmidt said. “You live for these moments. You want to race the best of the best. I want to work my kids and challenge my kids and say ‘You can’t slack off, because, if you do, you’re not going to win state or even qualify for state.’ As a coach, it makes you better, as a program it makes you better once you get that foot in. As a coach, I want to race and compete against the best athletes.”