The Marvin Ridge cross country program has in excess of 100 runners – a large number by any standard.
Although the Mavericks’ girls team is well-represented, it’s their youth which may be more surprising. The Mavs are void of any juniors or seniors this season, something they see less as an obstacle and more of a rallying cry for future success.
The Mavs already had the talent to be one of the state’s top teams on the course last season, winning the girls N.C. High School Athletic Association’s Class 3A Midwestern Regional in the fall.
A week later, and with mostly then-freshmen leading the way, the Mavs had an impressive third-place finish at the state championship.
Now a year older, and with the emergence of a new group of ultra-talented freshmen, Marvin Ridge’s quickly established dominance in area cross country circles has taken on a new meaning despite their youth and relative inexperience.
“It’s almost better that we’re younger, because we’ll have a better team for longer,” said sophomore Melanie Hussey. “It’s kind of weird not having juniors and seniors just because of some of the team traditions.
“As sophomores, we’re starting to realize that it’s on us to plan some of the team events, but at the same time it’s a good thing. Since we’re closer in age, we’re closer as friends and teammates.”
With their chemistry at an all-time high, the Mavs are a united team with their eyes set upon improving last year’s third-place finish. Instead of resting on their flourishing potential, they’re intent on making this season as successful as possible.
“On paper going into this season, we look good,” said coach Cameron Starr. “We’ve talked about it and they know what times they need to get to and what they need to do.”
With the experience of last year’s state meet under their belt, the burgeoning Mavs have plenty of reasons to believe they can build on what they’ve already accomplished.
Hussey was the Mavs’ top runner last season, posting her season best (18 minutes, 54.31 seconds) at the state meet, where she placed eighth.
Other Marvin Ridge runners quickly crossed the finish line behind her, including sophomores Nicole Renwick (19:24.06, 13th place) and Kylie Hennessey (19:59.74, 33rd).
The trio is back this season and have a pair of freshmen – Lexi King and Alexia Noch – ready to step in and help fill five of the top six spots that score points in cross country competitions.
King was a runner-up in a national indoor meet as an eighth-grader last year and already has several sub 19-minute times to her credit. Noch is clocking in under 20 minutes and both will be immediate contributors.
“I’ve been wanting to be in high school so I could join this team,” King said. “I’m excited to be working with them and I look forward to getting up to their levels and see what we can do.”
Like King, many of the Mavs have come up through “Girls on the Run,” a program designed for girls in third to eighth grade to teach youth development through running. Renwick and Hennessey began in the program as third-graders, King started as a fourth-grader and Hussey joined the program in sixth grade.
Together, bonded and empowered by their love of running, they’re now the present and future of one of the state’s best and most promising teams.
“I think it’s really great to be a part of this team,” Hussey said. “I couldn’t ask for a better team, a better coach and a better experience. Last year we went really far and this year we’re trying to be better.”
With the bonds the Mavs have cemented in pre-season workouts, Renwick said she’s already seen their closeness begin to pay dividends this summer.
“I think, without having upperclassmen, it’s a lot easier to get out and do things together,” she said. “Last year, it was harder to get everyone together for team-bonding time. This year we’re all a lot closer.”
With a collective understanding of what it takes to get to the top, it’s now up to the Mavs to take the next step and jump even further into the state championship picture. And they feel they’re a markedly improved team from a season ago – a daunting statement for potential opponents.
“They’re ready for it, they know what they want, they communicate their goals and they work really well together,” Starr said.
“We’ve talked a lot about where our program has been and where we want it to go. We’ve had a couple of third-place finishes at the state meet (in past sasons) and they know that’s the bar and they want to take it one notch higher.”
The Mavs could have six girls running under 20 minutes by the end of the season, Starr added, including a couple who could be sub 17-minutes – putting the Mavs in immediate state-title contention.
Even with the Mavs’ undeniable talent, Starr knows it will take more than talent alone to get his team where they want to go.
“When it comes down to it, it’s not just about time,” Starr said. “It’s about doing it at the right time and about who you’re willing to beat and how much pain you’re willing to tolerate.”
All signs seem to point to this Mavs’ team being eager to take the next step.
“Every workout has a purpose and we need to understand that everything coach is doing is helping us,” Hennessey said. “If we do that and communicate with each other and help each other out we can improve on last year.
“We have to work really hard to grown on what we’ve already done.”
Although the Mavs have made a scratch in the surface, they feel their best work is ahead of them.
“I want something to carry this with me when I’m gone,” Renwick said. “I think doing well now is great for the program because all (the runners) that come after us are going to have to carry on the tradition and stay up to the level that we’re at.”
With at least three years left together, the Mavs are aware this could be just the beginning of an astonishing run into cross country stardom.
“If we win the next three years or at least get top two, the next people coming up are going to try even harder to stay up at that level,” Hussey said. “Our success is just going to bring Marvin Ridge up with us and have people say ‘This is a good school for cross country and you have to watch out for them.’”