Alba-Golden 8th graders record early success

Posted 10/26/23

If anyone has any doubt about the future, all one has to do is to sit down and chat with some young athletes in the area. They can take a pessimistic view of the future and turn it completely on its head.

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Alba-Golden 8th graders record early success


If anyone has any doubt about the future, all one has to do is to sit down and chat with some young athletes in the area. They can take a pessimistic view of the future and turn it completely on its head. 

After interviewing the girls junior high cross country team at Alba-Golden Schools, the words that came to mind on the drive home were from the prayer of St. Francis:  “… where there is doubt let me sow faith, where there is despair – hope, where there is darkness – light, and where there is sadness – joy.”

The ten 8th-graders presented themselves at the interview with poise, confidence and positivity. They spoke seriously about their sport, and its challenges, without losing the good-natured banter between friends. They were able to respond to questions individually and always include a comment about the effect on the team.

The teammates mixed the humor of odd events on the running trail with serious issues like how to overcome pain. They impressed with thoughtful answers and mature perspectives.

Eight of the ten teammates began their schooling together at Alba-Golden. As they made clear several times, the group has been playing sports together – all sports – since they were quite young. 

Interestingly, the motivation which has brought the group to the sport of cross country was generally one of two things. It ranged from a love of running to a way of improving one’s performance in other sports. 

As Briana Ringgold commented, “I have just always had a passion for running and I knew that I wanted to do this.” Her experience was amplified by Harlow Sauceman who admitted “running makes me happy.” Sauceman recounted how, during her first organized sporting event, she would simply run around and around the soccer field without kicking the ball.

That innate love of running is balanced by others who saw the many positive effects of competing in cross country. Callie Campbell explained, “Cross country helps you develop so many things that will improve your performance in softball, track and volleyball – any sport really.” It was clear from observing heads nodding in agreement that this group of girls shared other team colors in other sports. 

The group explained that they owe much to former coach David Smith who introduced them to the sport in the sixth grade. As Jayla Sitar remarked, “We just wanted to be in it together.”

That initial interest piqued by Coach Smith was amplified by Coach Dale Clement and continues today under the leadership of Coach Troy Wallace. 

The common theme in the team’s discussion was each runner’s accountability to the team. What the youngsters described was not simply an encouraging environment, but a selfless approach to the sport. Several of the team commented on the difference finishing 15th versus 16th in a field might make to the team’s score.

“The team is counting on each of us, you can’t let them down,” was a familiar refrain.

That perspective is common in other team sports, but in cross country – where the activity of the sport (running) is all individual effort – it is special for the concept of team to be given such importance.

As the girls went on to relate, it is not easy.

The training day starts at 6:40 a.m. with stretching. Then, it’s either distance work (figure eights around the softball and baseball fields for instance) or wind sprints. On the morning of the interview, the team did eleven 200-meter sprints and finished with a 100-meter dash.

All runners nodded when asked about overcoming pain. Sadie Wright offered that Coach Wallace does a great job in helping them block out the noise – block out the pain. Campbell added that cross country running is really a mind-game. 

Occupying one’s mind in a 3,200-meter race is a diverse and individual endeavor. For Averi Stevenson it involves matching her breathing to songs playing in her head. Sophia Richardson’s technique involves counting strides in a specific rhythm, while Maddie Moore distracts herself from the exertion by making noises or moving her ears. Tayla Peterson commented, “I think about how I have done this before and how I can do it again, better.”

Peyton Clark busies herself with concentrating on the mechanics of running, specifically her arms and shoulders, while Sauceman thinks about practice. Sitar draws inspiration from things that others have told her. Campbell and Wright engage in a lot of self-talk. 

Whatever the individual technique, it is working for the Alba-Golden cross country program.

Also working for the team is the impact of their supporters. Each group – parents, high schoolers and younger students – were specifically called out by the team. One commonality the runners shared was having an acute ear as they ran. Vocal support during the race was certainly one source of adrenalin.

The team also drew strength from other teams and coaches. Several episodes were recounted when opposing runners and coaches approached, not only to support, but also to ask about the success of the program.

Evidently there is one specific sound to which the team is attentive – the unique, high-pitched whistle of Coach Wallace. Stevenson commented, “Hearing his whistle can have many meanings, but basically it is an alert that means ‘pay attention, I have a message.’”

The team has some fun with nicknames, and when the opportunity presents itself, on the course. While running a race through some trees after a rain, the runners ambushed one another by batting low-hanging branches which caused a rainfall on their following teammates.

Three points concluded the interview. Sitar, Wright and Sauceman combined to describe just how much hard work is involved in the sport. They explained, “You can’t just decide you want to do it and it happens. It takes a lot of hard work. You can’t sit on the couch eating potato chips and run cross country!”

While each of the teammates admitted that they draw encouragement and inspiration from one another, Moore went one step further. She credited “all the people who uplift me” as her motivation. 

Uplifted could also be used to describe the answer to the final question of the interview: ‘What makes your team so special?’

With no hesitation, four of the ten launched into a description of the influence of God and prayer on their efforts. “He is by our side,” stated Campbell. “We put Jesus first,” added Clark.

The team prays together before each race, something not usually done by the majority of schools at area meets. Clark advised that it brings an instant sense of relief and comfort.

“We just give it all to God,” smiled Wright.