By Lee Noles
WEDDINGTON – Weddington girls cross country coach Rick Spencer sees a lot of potential in his team this year, but now all the Warriors have to do is get healthy in time for a run at the program’s first state title in the 14 years the school has been open.
Spencer said nine out of the top 10 runners have been unable to compete at full strength at one point or another this season because of nagging injuries that have made for a rough summer.
“It’s tweaks that are here and there,” Spencer said. “They have just as much potential as anyone. They can be just as good as the guys.”
That’s high praise considering the boys team for the Warriors return all of its top runners from last year’s squad, which finished second in the 3A state championship. On the girls side, the injuries have put more emphasis on the Warriors running together. At the Friday Night Lights Festival earlier this month, Weddington didn’t have a runner in the top 10, but still finished second behind county rival Cuthbertson because of the running they did as a cohesive unit.
Freshman Emma Jones was 11th at the festival while junior Anna Davis placed 16th, Sarah Bechtel finished 20th and Anna Brown came in 31st. All four broke 20 minutes in the 3.1-mile race.
“We keep each other accountable,” Brown said. “And on pace … It makes us better.”
Spencer is looking toward Bechtel to hold the Warriors together through the injury-riddled start of the year. Bechtel, a senior, finished 10th at last year’s 3A championship to help lead the Warriors to a third-place finish. She now finds herself like many of the other Warriors as she battles through an injury.
“She’s a great leader and has a great attitude,” Spencer said of Bechtel. “She is the key member who holds it all together. Such a real competitor.”
The competition with the Cavs has been an important in driving the Warriors this season. Cuthbertson finished just three points ahead of Weddington at last year’s state championship and also got past the Warriors to win the Midwest Regional and the Southern Carolina Conference titles.
“We are very fortunate to have that competition in the county and in the state,” Brown said of facing teams like Cuthbertson and Chapel Hill High. “It does give us that competitive spirit.”
The addition of Jones this year has also been instrumental. Jones ran for Weddington’s middle school program, and Spencer said he likes her work ethic.
“She just can go out and push it.” Spencer said.
The Warriors window of opportunity is quickly closing if they want to get over the injury bug. The regional championships will be Oct 27. The state meet follows Nov.3.
But Bechtel said the team is trying to look at things positively.
“(The injuries) usually come later on in the season, but with it happening now, maybe we can get it out of the way and run well at the end of the year,” Bechtel said.