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Lincoln County cross country runners are an embarrassment of riches

The most dominant cross-country runners in the region will meet in Clinton to test one another at regional finals today, and a lot of them will be representing local schools.

The No. 1 female 5K runner in Mississippi, the No. 3 male runner and a bus-load of top-ranked competitors boasting record times will attack the Choctaw Trails course wearing Loyd Star red, West Lincoln green and the blues, blacks and yellows of Southwest Mississippi schools. Local athletes and their coaches are looking to finish strong here at the end of what has, for most of them, been a successful 2017 season.

“They are competing against themselves, striving to improve each time they run,” Loyd Star Cross-Country Coach Michelle Case said of her runners. “I’m expecting them to do their very best at regionals, and I know they will.”

Case coaches one of the most successful athletes in the state — Aubrey Britt, only an eighth-grader, is the No. 1 ranked girl in 2A in Mississippi. At the Jackson Public Schools championships last week, the Loyd Star girls team finished third, but Britt finished first among all girls with a time creeping into boy’s territory, completing the 3.1 overland miles in 20 minutes, 19 seconds.

Britt has finished as the first female competitor at every event in which Loyd Star has competed this season but one, and has only recently made the jump to varsity from the junior ranks.

“She’s very athletic, very determined and really competitive, but very sportsmanlike and humble,” Case said of her star performer. “I’ve been having her practice a little extra this week because I know she can add a little extra.”

There’s plenty more running firepower on the Loyd Star teams. Senior Abby Thomas is the No. 8 runner in 2A statewide, and sophomore boys Roberto Galindo and Leondre Dodds are ranked No. 10 and No. 17 in 2A, respectively.

The Hornets will compete in Region 3-2A, and there they will meet the top-ranked team in 2A — the running Bears of West Lincoln. Bears coach Gregg Allen has run his team into the No. 1 spot in a tight 2A race, with Clarkdale and St. Patrick just behind.

“It’s kind of tight right now; it’s very close. We’re hoping to come out on top and win the South. That’s our goal,” Allen said.

West Lincoln did not travel to the JPS meet last week, and Allen has cut practice distances for his team in an effort to “save their legs” for the district matchups.

One pair of those legs belongs to junior Jonathan Mathis, the third-ranked male runner in 2A. He turned in a personal best time of 17 minutes, 50 seconds at the Loyd Star meet back on Sept. 9.

Freshman teammate Tiler Castillo is ranked sixth in 2A, with a best time 18 minutes, 44 seconds, turned in at the Natchez Cathedral meet on Oct. 16. Junior Trevor Murrary, eighth-grader Landon Burgess, junior Will Gary and freshman Noah Addison are also well-ranked in 2A, while freshman Justin Pratt was turning in fast times before an injury took him off the courses this year.

On the smaller girls team, seventh-grader Kara Addison is No. 16 in 2A and ranked ninth in the South. She ran a time of 23 minutes, 19 seconds on Oct. 16.

An embarrassment of competitive riches for Lincoln County schools doesn’t stop with the Hornets and Bears.

Owen Douglas, a senior runner for the Enterprise Yellow Jackets, is ranked No. 4 in 2A and is only one second off a 19-minute 5K. He trails West Lincoln’s Mathis and his No.3 ranking by 38 seconds, and this is his first and only year to compete.

Enterprise’s senior-heavy team of runners also includes boys Adam Brumfield, Kaleb Carrithers, Ryan Amick, Roman Carter and Dalton Russ, and senior girl Daisha Wilson. Coach Karen Dunaway called 2017 a “bitter-sweet” season, as her departing seniors will leave behind a young but spirited team.

“They have really laid the foundations for this team,” she said. “Adam Brumfield has logged 500 miles per season, and Kaleb Carrithers has been running through a medical condition, staying strong and dedicated. Ryan Amick missed about five weeks of practice with an injured ankle, and up to that he’d only missed one practice his entire career. These kids are good examples of what it takes to be successful athletes.”

All three Lincoln County cross-country teams will compete in Region 3-2A, with girls races beginning at 2 p.m. and boys races at 2:30 p.m. The results of regional competition will determine the 10 runners who will compete in the state championships early in November — seven runners and three alternates.

Familiar faces from Wesson will also be competing Thursday, as the Cobras cross-country team will run against foes from Region 3-3A. The Wesson team, in only its second year, has its share of fast shoes, and coach Vance Windom is looking for team-wide improvement.

“Last year our girls were fifth and our guys were seventh, so this year we want to move on up and, hopefully, have some runners who can place on up there individually,” he said.

Windom singled out his top male runners as juniors Cody Meredith and Will McGinnis, along with eighth-graders Logan Hux and Sam McGinnis. On the girls team, senior Megan Jones is a top competitor.

The Cougars of Brookhaven Academy, meanwhile, competed in the state Mississippi Association of Independent Schools 2A meet Tuesday.

Junior varsity team members Trevor Fortenberry and Lucie Leblanc were standouts for the Cougars. Fortenberry logged the fastest time in the 5K at 23 minutes, 3 seconds to finish in first place overall. Leblanc completed the 2.5-mile race in 19 minutes, 22 seconds to claim 10th place.

BA’s boys finished sixth as a team in 2A. The girls finished fourth.

This season has been a learning experience for the Cougars, who are fielding their first cross-country team. Head coach Chris Fortenberry’s team features only two high school students, but is loaded with sixth-graders and other junior-varsity runners.

“Our goal is the build this program over the next few years,” she said.