August 20, 2010 10:17:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Starkville High School''s cross country team has its sights set on crashing Class 6A''s top four with a revamped squad of returnees and transfer talent.
The Yellow Jackets had two runners finish in the top 50 at last season''s 6A state meet, but with the additions of Starkville Academy transfer Joseph MacGown and transfer Kamau Bostic from Virginia, the team believes it''s closer to the top of the mountain.
MacGown was runner up at the 2009 Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class AAA state meet.
Bostic, a tall, long-strider has helped pace returning standouts Nathan Ball, and Hudson and Grant Woomer in the club''s preseason training.
The new blood and quality competition have created higher expectations, though the Jackets have yet to test themselves in a meet.
"We have 10 guys who know they can get into the 19s, 18s and 17s," Starkville coach Caroline Woomer said. "They know they''re that talented and they see it everyday in practice. I feel like, results-wise, at the state meet we should be a much better team."
The Jackets finished 12th overall last season, and were paced by Ball''s 18:35.4 clip. The senior took 26th with that mark, though John Robert Tomlinson, who finished 37th, isn''t back with the team this year.
Ball is the only runner on the roster who cracked the top 50 at Choctaw Trails a year ago. He also finished 36th n the ''08 state meet.
Despite being the only runner on the team with 6A state credentials, the leader of the pack he sees an entirely different squad than paper indicates.
"You bring in Joseph and Kamau, and now you''ve got two new guys who are helping push the pack," Ball said. "It pushes the top group, but it also pushes the four, five, six and seven guys.
"Both Joseph and Kamau were the top runners at their schools. And with everyone showing more in training, we''re definitely expecting great things."
In the last three seasons, Caroline Woomer has seen her boys team grow from 33 runners to 60. Athletes are more dedicated to training in the offseason and taking advantage of camp opportunities, she said.
This summer, seven Starkville runners attended the Virginia Tech high Distance Performance camp. Select mountain runs of two and four miles, along with new training methods highlighted the trip, and in turn, provided the seven runners tutelage to share with teammates.
The commitment to training in the offseason, coupled with fresh top-20 talent, is a pleasant sight for Woomer, who believes the team can crack the top five at state.
"We''re more competitive than we''ve ever been," Woomer said. "I expect to see times drop and sooner rather than later. Talent-wise, we''re there. But of course, you''ve got to stay healthy and keep having good practices."
MacGown, just 14-years-old, is keen to lower his 5K time under the 17-minute barrier, but after a recent bout with dehydration, he isn''t sure how long it''ll take to reach his season-long goal.
"I haven''t run a fast 5k in a while, so based on that I might be pretty far away," MacGown said. "It''s just hard to tell until the first meet comes and I can see where I am. I feel good now, so I''m just waiting on that first meet."
The Jackets open the season Aug. 28 at Tupelo.
n Stringer ailing, but Lady Jackets have depth: With as many as six runners competing at the same level, Woomer has seen her young squad take a major step from being a young squad in flux.
Last season, the Lady Jackets had a pair of runners finish in the top 50 at the Class 6A state meet. The team managed to finish 10th overall, creating more expectation for this year''s squad of returnees.
Woomer expects more runners to crack the top 50 this season.
With Stringer, Walker Mattox, Bailey Clark, Ashley Albritton and Meghan Wolf back in the fold, the Lady Jackets are banking on experienced underclassmen to help
Of Starkville High''s key varsity runners, all but one -- MarkAnne Hobart -- ran at state last year.
Youth no longer an excuse, Woomer has seen the team take that approach to training. Without a transition period from practicing at a junior varsity level to preparing for the best competition in the state, Woomer has seen the team adjust well to training at a higher level.
"I think last year they were young and a bit insecure because of [being new to varsity]," Woomer said. "But they know how to run and how to train this year. They''re ready for this level and they don''t want to be held back.
"I see minutes coming off, not seconds. If each girl, especially the ones who''ve really been training, continues the hard work they can see 30 seconds cut off their mile time."
As of Thursday, Woomer said about 50 percent of her varsity squad was ready for the Aug. 28 opener at Tupelo.
The Lady Jackets could be without top runner Stringer, whose been sidelined with shin splints for the past three weeks.
She''s been swimming and doing cardio, but just a week out from Tupelo she''s unsure if she''ll make the first meet.
"Being injured, it''s the worst time for it to happen," Stringer said. "I tried to run yesterday but couldn''t make a mile without it hurting. When I start back running, I think I''ll be back to normal. I just don''t know how far I''ll be from where I think I should be."