Cuthbertson makes case to be Union County’s top cross country team
INDIAN TRAIL – Union County cross country programs have consistently been the top teams in the state for a number of years, and this season is no different.
Weddington, Marvin Ridge and Cuthbertson each placed within the top five at last year’s 3A girls state championship, and the boys put in top-10 finishes, but it was not by accident.
“Numbers have always played into our favor, so that’s one thing,” Cuthbertson’s third-year coach Kirk Walsh said. “Our middle school and our high school program is viewed as one single program, and I can’t tell you how much that helps to have 100 kids on the middle school program every year that are running and developing elite workout routines, so that when they get here, they already have those habits and know how to work hard.
“That’s unique to Union County and that’s what makes it special here with us, Marvin Ridge and Weddington. Parkwood is on the rise right now, Piedmont is running really well, and I don’t think you can find a better conference in the state. That’s by a wide margin.”
The Cavs placed second in last year’s state meet, trailing champion Chapel Hill by just 16 points, but this year – led by one of the state’s best runners and some talented underclassmen – they are looking to build on that.
“I’m staying motivated because I want to keep getting faster,” said senior N.C. State commit Sarah LaTour, who owns the fourth-fastest time in the state this season. “I’m still learning about recovery after my workouts and how to better myself, so it’s easy to stay motivated. Plus, I’m really focused on the team getting the state title and on me getting one individually. Those are my biggest goals this season and what we’re striving for.”
LaTour placed second at last year’s state meet, has run a personal-best time of 18 minutes, 12 seconds at the Wendy’s Invitational earlier this month and is the Cavs clear frontrunner and leader.
“Sarah has meant everything,” Walsh said. “You have to have athletes lead the way and there’s no one better at that than Sarah. You talk about elite routines, and Sarah has them. If she’s what you see everyday at practice it’s going to become a habit for you as well.”
LaTour’s leadership has rubbed off on freshmen Madeline Hill and Kaitlyn St. Hilaire, who have made immediate impacts this season.
Hill has the state’s second-fastest freshman time (18:31) and is ranked 11th in the state.
“I love running for the high school team because we have all of these upperclassmen to help us and to guide us to make a difference for this program,” Hill said. “It makes it so much fun and rewarding.”
St. Hilaire has the sixth-fastest freshman time this season (19:10) and has run the 47th fastest time in the state.
“We have great leadership and Sarah has been really good to us and she has guided the new runners really well,” St. Hilaire said. “We’re always there for each other, we’re very encouraging and that’s great because there are some teams that just don’t have that.”
The Cavs also rely heavily on sophomore Gabriella Castro, who finished 16th in the state meet as a freshman (19:45), but has shaved 41 seconds off that time (19:01) to run the 42nd fastest time in North Carolina this season in just her second year running distance events.
“When I saw Gabriella for the first time in eighth grade she was trying very hard to convince me she was a 100-meter specialist,” Walsh said. “It took a while to convince her she was a distance runner, but she came around. It was literally the first time she’d ever run any distance at all.
The Cavs also have talent pushing them for the top four spots as freshman Tori Bridgforth (personal-best 19:51), senior Tess Nichols (20:10) and juniors Delaney Patterson (20:21) and Morgan Allison (20:31) have all recorded times that would have finished within the top 40 at last year’s state championship.
Sophomore Annalise Furr, who placed 16th at last year’s state meet (19:36), has missed the season with a growth plate issue, but her potential return could make an already impressive group even better.
“I know this is my senior year and last shot at a title, but I’m happy where we are,” LaTour said. “I think we’ve helped set the program up for these younger athletes. I really want them to keep moving this program forward and so I’m doing my best to show leadership.”
While the Cavs have ascended toward the top of the state hierarchy in the past couple of years with LaTour’s help, Walsh said it’s just the beginning for a team that is here to stay.
“We’re just starting a long run,” he said. “We talk about this year being a full circle year because when I started coaching the middle school team, Sarah was in the seventh grade. That class is now seniors, so we’ve been through that run together. If you look in our middle school program right now, we have the No. 2 guy in the state as an eighth-grader (Gage Austin), the top girl in the state is a seventh-grader (Marissa Bosland) so it keeps flowing. Once you get something like this going, you start to attract the better athletes. For whatever grace of God, the good athletes are starting to choose running at Cuthbertson.”