Path to the Podium: Wilcox County Girls Runner Up in 1A-d2

Path to the Podium-Wilcox County Girls

What exactly did it take for a team to arrive at the moment where they are standing on the podium, clutching their prized trophy? In this article, Wilcox County coach Amanda Hilliard details the journey her girls took on their way to their 2nd place State finish in Class A Division 2.

XC 2022

Any seniors that set a good example or laid the foundation?
Our first season was in 2019, so this was the last group of seniors who started the team as high school runners. We had one senior who truly stood out, but quit due to some medical issues mid season. Emily Carter was a devastating loss. I wasn't sure how our team would perform at Region or State in her absence. However, when we went to Milledgeville for our little tune-up run, I must say, these girls made me proud. At that time we had Allie Walker, a sophomore, and Izzy Catron, a Freshman, who dominated the pack. Both girls performed great at Region earning them the 1st and 2nd place spots.
As a team, we knew that we would have to buckle down for state. The goal was to close the gaps.

Any good or bad results that motivated the team?
I would say a surprise first place finish for our freshman, Izzy Catron, was pretty motivating. Allie Walker got sick on the trail slowing her down to a 9th place finish which gave the team a third place spot on the podium. We were proud. 

Winter 2022

Anyone that stepped up their training with XC already in mind? 
We have an off season run club in which the runners who don't participate in track volunteer as "coaches". Izzy Catron, Emma Harris, as well as a few others helped with this. This helped prepare them for summer running, I am certain. 

Summer 2023

Any new additions that changed the outlook for XC? 
I would say that over the summer the addition of Vera Carter changed the outlook of the team, but we already knew that she was coming up from 8th grade, and coming strong. Emma Harris, I would say was a game changer. She had taken a year away from running after the devastating loss of her brother. She tried to make a comeback during the 2022 season, but had some knee issues. When I saw her running over the summer and watched her progress, I knew she would do well. 

What were the early goals for the season? 
Our goals for the season were to close the gaps. We have too much space between three and four, which only gets larger between the others. 

How did summer training go for the team? 
Summer went as expected, hot and tiresome with many gains. 

Any setbacks/challenges that had to be overcome? 
At the end of summer, one of our top girls decided that she just didn't want to run anymore. I smiled and reassured her, but of course I was crying on the inside. 

Season 2023

Did anyone have a breakout season that changed the outlook for the team? 
Our little Vera Carter shaved over four minutes this season making her time at state this year better than our Izzy Catron's from last year. Izzy punched back hard and shaved two minutes from her state time and again, Emma Harris had a great breakout season. 

How did early results compare to the team goals? 
We knew that we had to tighten up the team to get the results that we wanted. We had good days and bad days. 

Did the team revise any goals? 
When we lost Allie Walker, I revised my expectations to a third place finish, at minimum. That was my secret. I told the girls we expected a championship the entire season. When we lost our runner right before State, I told them, "Beat Milesplit's expectation of you!". They did just that!

Any setbacks/challenges that had to be overcome? 
The day after Region, one of our top runners was involved in an accident and would not be able to run at state; again, I was devastated. 

In hindsight, what are the key moments of the season that led to the State result? 
I would say that some of the key moments would be allowing the top runners to take their group through some of their personal best training sessions. They needed to take ownership of their team and know that the end result would be of their making. I would say that it worked. They passed that third place position and came in second place. I don't know if they will ever truly know how proud I am of them.