Photo by Sam Chandler.
The Westminster School at Oak Mountain girls cross-country team won its first state cross-country title in program history at the AHSAA State Cross Country Championships Nov. 12.
Maddie Hoaglund made the choice, and it helped make the difference.
Near the 2-mile mark at Oakville Indian Mounds Park, the Westminster School at Oak Mountain senior told herself she would not let another runner beat her, no matter how much it hurt.
As grass and gravel passed underfoot, Hoaglund willed herself through the race’s final third. She did not relent until crossing the 5K finish line a season-best 19 minutes, 53.61 seconds, which was good for fourth place.
“I was trying to push my hardest,” she said.
Hoaglund’s top-five finish in the Class 1A-2A girls race at the Nov. 12 AHSAA State Cross Country Championships spurred Westminster to its first state cross-country title in school history.
The Knights prevailed over their closest competitor, Hatton, 42-88.
“They were fierce, beautifully fierce, and they fought for each other and the two seniors that were leaving,” head coach Leslie Callahan said. “They were bigger collectively than they were for themselves. Therefore, all the little things they did all season paid off.”
Each of the team’s top five runners clocked season-best times and finished among the race’s top 14 positions. The top 15 individuals earned All-State honors.
Junior Sarah Kate Lipperd placed seventh in 20:10.89; eighth-grader Hallie Porterfield placed 11th in 21:03.51; senior Camryn Neal placed 12th in 21:05.81; and freshman Arden McCullough placed 14th in 21:21.20.
Overall, Westminster put eight runners in the top 28. Only one other school had five in the top 30.
“They executed exactly what the plan was all season — to get them to pack up,” Callahan said. “They did, and they did well.”
The fifth-year coach labeled it a “sweet” victory for a Westminster team that had finished runner-up the past two years. The Knights fell to St. Bernard by six points in 2014 and by one point in 2015.
This year, they left nothing to chance.
“I just wasn’t ever expecting it to happen, and then it did, and it’s just the most incredible thing,” Hoaglund said after the race. “The Holy Spirit was with our team today, and it was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had. It’s crazy.”
No one could question Hoaglund’s shock in the aftermath of such a significant breakthrough. She had been a cornerstone of the program since 2011, when the Knights struggled to find enough runners to field a varsity team.
Callahan arrived in 2012, and Westminster has since qualified for state every year. Gradually, the Knights crept into title contention, as third-place showings in 2012 and 2013 preceded the pair of runner-up finishes the past two years.
But on Nov. 12, the momentum that had been building finally reached its breaking point.
The Knights, at last, found themselves on top.
“It’s nice when your efforts really show how much work you put in,” Callahan said. “It doesn’t always work out that way; it’s such a treat when it does.”
Although the girls stole the show, the Westminster boys also posted a strong team performance at the state meet.
Eighth-grader Hunter Wright led his Knights to a third-place finish with 85 points. St. Bernard (58) and Cold Springs (64) took first and second in1A-2A.
A rising star, Wright notched a sixth-place finish in a personal-best 17:03.55.
“He is just so talented and loves running so much,” Callahan said. “The future is very bright.”
Sophomore John Porterfield joined Wright as an All-State honoree. He finished 15th in 17:49.67.
Pierce Moffett (19th, 17:57.57), Campbell Lemons (23rd, 18:15.19) and Cooper Reynolds (30th, 18:40.38) rounded out the team’s scoring five.
The Oak Mountain High School boys cross-country team earned a fifth-place finish in the 7A division. Paced by All-State finishes from seniors Caleb Van Geffen (sixth, 16:00.64) and Cole Stidfole (12th, 16:11.58), the Eagles totaled 129 points.
“We were hoping to do better,” Stidfole said, “but you can’t have your best day every day.”
Bryce Keefover (41st, 16:48.69), Eric Marin (50th, 16:56.25) and Chris Tate (54th, 17:02.83) capped the team’s scoring five.