The Class 7A, Section 3 cross-country meet was held on Thursday, Nov. 3, at Veterans Park in Hoover, Ala.
HOOVER – Anna Grace Morgan toed Thursday’s starting line at the Class 7A, Section 3 meet with extra motivation.
The Mountain Brook High School senior said she wanted to avenge her “bad” race from two weeks prior, maximize her final competition at Veterans Park and help her Spartans advance to the state meet.
She left nothing to chance.
Morgan flew off the starting line at the sound of the gun and didn’t begin to decelerate until she crossed the 5K finish pad 18 minutes, 51.18 seconds later.
Her closest competitor, Spain Park’s Isabel Caddo, was nowhere in sight. She eventually finished 63 seconds after Morgan, in a respectable 19:54.12.
“I was just out there trying to get all those goals,” Morgan said.
And she did.
7A’s top-ranked runner, Morgan turned what should have been a moderately contested competition into a race against the clock. Her first-place finish lifted the Spartans to a decisive 33-point victory, 23-56, over Hoover, a team widely considered to be a top threat to ending Mountain Brook's run of 13 consecutive state titles.
“We were happy with everybody today. They ran really well,” Spartans cross-country coach Michael McGovern said. “It kind of set the tone, hopefully, for next week.”
Mountain Brook placed five girls in the top seven finish positions. The Spartan quartet of Lily Hulsey (4th, 20:05), Cameron Hudson (5th 20:13), Anna Balzli (6th, 20:14) and Tessa Allen (7th, 20:14) was only separated from Morgan by two opposing runners: Spain Park’s Caddo and Hoover’s Ava Weems.
Weems paced her Bucs to the runner-up finish, placing third in 20:02.
Caddo and Mary Katherine Tedder (9th, 20:20) spurred the Jags to a third-place finish with 85 points.
At sectional meets, the top three teams, along with the top six individuals not on one of those teams, advance to the state meet.
Vestavia Hills stole four of the six available spots; the others went to runners from Tuscaloosa County. The Rebels’ Madison Milldrum, MaryGriffith Lytle, Sasha Allison and Kaylee Dressback earned state wild-card berths, as their team finished fourth to Spain Park by 14 points.
Spain Park cross country
Spain Park cross-country runner Isabel Caddo battled to a runner-up finish at the Class 7A, Section 3 meet on Thursday, Nov. 3, at Veterans Park in Hoover, Ala.
The boys race, on the other hand, produced a different storyline.
A sizeable group of runners from a host of different schools packed together through a conservative opening third. Race leaders passed by the 1-mile mark around 5:05 – a pace that Hoover’s Tommy McDonough decided was too slow.
“I just picked up the pace and was trying to get a big enough lead so I could cruise in,” McDonough said. “That was pretty much the plan.”
The Hoover senior executed it to perfection and gapped the field over the remaining 2.1 miles. His compact form suggested composure when he broached the finish in 16:24.33, 15 seconds ahead of Vestavia Hills’ James Sweeney.
McDonough’s individual triumph propelled the Hoover boys to a seven-point victory over Mountain Brook, 42-49. The Spartans had defeated the Bucs in the teams’ previous three meetings.
“I would think this was a big confidence boost for our kids,” Hoover cross-country coach Devon Hind said. “It should be.”
John Paul Rumore (5th, 16:48), John McCrackin (7th, 16:51), Alex Leary (11th, 17:08) and Joe Leventry (18th, 17:25) contributed to the Bucs’ breakthrough.
Hind specifically praised Leventry, the team’s fifth man who is in the process of returning to full strength.
“He was our fifth guy today and did what we needed him to do, so I was thrilled,” Hind said.
Oak Mountain cross country
Oak Mountain cross-country runner Caleb Van Geffen placed ninth at the Class 7A, Section 3 meet, held Thursday, Nov. 3, at Veterans Park in Hoover, Ala.
Charlie Slaughter (3rd, 16:46) and Hunter Harwell (4th, 16:47) anchored Mountain Brook’s runner-up performance, but no other Spartan penetrated the top 10.
McGovern said he’ll need his second pack of runners to move up if his team wants to avoid a similar fate at the state meet.
Mountain Brook and Hoover are thought to be the front-runners to knock off three-time defending state champion Auburn.
“It’s going to be a tight three-team race. It’s whoever’s on that day, and they definitely were on today,” McGovern said of Hoover. “They ran a great race, and I can’t take anything from them.”
Led by top 15 showings from Caleb Van Geffen (9th, 16:57), Cole Stidfole (10th, 17:07) and Chris Tate (13th, 17:18), Oak Mountain secured the final state qualifying spot.
The Eagles totaled 76 points, nine ahead of Vestavia Hills.
Sweeney, the runner-up finisher, and Bryce Hutchinson (6th, 16:50) will represent the Rebels at state.
If his strong Thursday performance is any indication, Sweeney find himself among the top contenders.
“It gives me tremendous confidence,” he said.
Three Spain Park runners sealed trips to the state meet as individual qualifiers. Charlie Trower, Morgan Becker and Jacob Warner will represent the Jags on Saturday, Nov. 12, at Oakville Indian Mounds Park, site of the AHSAA State Cross Country Championships.