EL girls primed to go back-to-back
By RYAN HERMAN
East Lincoln’s girls cross country team won its first state title last season, and the Mustangs are back for more.
East Lincoln returns its top five runners from a year ago, including now-sophomore phenom Frances Massey, as it looks to repeat as the NCHSAA state 2A champion.
The Mustangs placed five in the top 29 spots last November to claim their first state championship in the sport, and all five return.
But that doesn’t mean they’ll be handed the trophy.
“It’s going to be tough,” coach Melvin Morrison said of a possible repeat. “When you’re the defending champion, everyone’s out to get you.
“Our goal this year is to stay grounded, and to be a better team than we were last year.”
So how can a team that won a state title be better than the year before?
“Individually better –– have stronger times, put ourselves in a better position to take it again,” Morrison said.
“We know it’s going to take a better effort to win it again.”
Massey, now a sophomore and last season’s 2A Western Regional champion, didn’t finish lower than second in any meet heading into the state championship race, where she finished fifth.
Morrison isn’t worried about a so-called sophomore slump.
“A lot of people talk about the sophomore slump, but Frances is a go-getter,” he said. “She’s picked up right where she left off last year, and I see her having a fantastic year.”
Junior Maggie Foley returns after finishing 14th in the state meet, followed by junior twins Megan and Madison Rowles, who finished 20th and 21st, respectively, in the title race. Senior Elizabeth Sisk rounded out the top 29.
In fact, East Lincoln lost just one senior from its seven-member team in Tori Horne. Also returning is senior Shelbee Knopf, who finished 56th in the state championships.
And Knopf is no longer the sixth-best runner on her team.
“She has really stepped up her game, and she, right now, is running in our number two spot,” Morrison said of Knopf. “With that being said, that’s a huge advantage for our team because that makes us that much stronger.”
“At this time I’d have to say we’re working very hard to see that (a repeat) happens,” Morrison said. “We know as a team we have a ways to go yet. I can see great things happening by the end of the season.”
Morrison also sees big things for his boys squad.
The boys failed to qualify for the state championships last season after finishing sixth in the regional meet, but this year anything less than running at Kernersville’s Ivy M. Redmon Park on Nov. 1 is short of their goal.
“The boys team is very, very young. We’re starting three freshman in the top seven. But this is one of the most talented groups I’ve had in a long time. I see them making a big impact by the end of the season,” Morrison said.
“Our goal for the boys team is to qualify for state.”
Morrison said seniors Parker Whitley and Garrett Reavis will lead the group, which is in one of the toughest regions in the state.
Four of the top seven teams in the state came from the 2A West in 2013.
“We’re in a tough region,” Morrison said. “We know we need to step up our game.”