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Monday, 09 September 2019 15:53

Richmond Cross Country Season Preview: Experienced leadership key to Raiders', Lady Raiders' success

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Head coach Reggie Miller clocks times during a practice at Hinson Lake ahead of Tuesday's season opener. Head coach Reggie Miller clocks times during a practice at Hinson Lake ahead of Tuesday's season opener. Kyle Pillar — The Richmond Observer.

ROCKINGHAM — One of the more mentally and physically taxing sports at Richmond Senior High School, the 2019 cross country season is set to get underway Tuesday. And to help the plethora of male and female runners compete this fall is a seasoned veteran and a fresh face to the program.

The Raider cross country team is coached by 11-year veteran Reggie Miller, while the Lady Raider team will see first-year head coach Jessica Covington join the ranks. The duo of coaches may be new to one another, but they share a common goal: helping the Richmond squads get better together.

Even though the Sandhills Athletic Conference opener is set for Tuesday at Purnell Swett High School, the Raiders’ and Lady Raiders’ seasons started months ago. Miller noted that summer workouts for the boys and girls began a week after school got out for summer vacation, and that the rigorous summer regimen has prepared both teams for their first meet.

“So far, things are pretty good,” Miller explained. “The boys and girls are working very hard. Summer workouts really helped them to get into shape. I believe (both teams) will have a strong showing because they are committed and determined to get better every day in practice.”

Both teams have battled the hot summer weather while running mile after mile around the exterior of Richmond’s rolling campus, Hinson Lake in Rockingham and along the track at the high school. Miller and Covington have mixed in long and mid-distance runs, as well as sprints and core workouts to better their runners. 

“I am extremely excited to see what this season holds for the girls,” Covington said. “I feel as if we have a strong, dedicated team that will do well.  The girls are always giving it 100 percent and I expect great things.” 

While both teams are smaller in size, 12 girls and seven boys, they each pack a strong punch when it comes to returning experienced leadership. On the boys’ side, seniors Joey Nicholson and Devon Tillman are returning for their fourth season, while juniors Carson Jordan and Will Thompson should keep the Raiders in each race.

The Lady Raiders are led by seniors Airel Brown, Abby Calhoun, Hannah Stewart and Analee Wyand, all of whom placed well last season under former head coach Shellie Wimpey. Juniors Breanna  Ball and Alena Craddock, sophomore Maylyn Wallace and freshman Sheccid Heaton will look to back up the strong senior class.

“Carson came into his own last year, and he improved his time in every meet that he ran in,” Miller commented. “This is his third year running cross country and he brings that mental toughness and hard work that every coach loves to see. 

“Joey, who’s in his fourth year running, is also a hard worker and brings mental toughness to the team,” he added. “He’s one of the hardest-working athletes that I’ve coached and Joey is an athlete that you can build a team around.”

For Covington, who is now one of the weight training teachers at the high school, this year is all about building on experience while acclimating herself to an already proven set of girls.

“I am so excited to start my first season coaching cross country with this group of young ladies,” she remarked. “Coach Miller has also been awesome with showing me the ropes and I look forward to an awesome season. 

“Airel is our fastest girl at the moment and is a great team leader who motivates the rest of the team to pick it up,” she added. 

In a sport that sees its athletes push their extremes to the max during 3.2-mile races over exhaustive terrain, Miller and Covington are hoping to see the season go without a hitch on the healthy side. With smaller crews, the imperativeness of staying healthy and injury-free will keep the Raiders and Lady Raiders in the hunt for a Sandhills Athletic Conference championship.

A season ago, the Raiders took fourth out of eight teams in the SAC standings, and finished 17th overall in the 4A regional meet. The Lady Raiders took 14th at regionals. In order to get better this season, the answer is simple: staying focused and building mental toughness.

“We talked about how in order to be a better team than we were last year, we needed to stay focused and have mental toughness,” Miller shared. “The only way for us to have success is we need to improve our times, stay competitive in practice and stay injury-free.

“I want the boys to believe in themselves,” he added. “If they can do that, then success will take care of itself.”

“The goals for the girls this fall are to shave some time off of their 5K time and to place in regionals,” Covington echoed. “Several of our seniors are also looking to get scholarships.   Tuesday’s race will be a good way to see how the girls will do under pressure. We have a great time and I know they are going to do great.” 

This season will also be Miller’s 11th and final as the boys’ head cross country coach. Following the season, he said, he will shift his focus to indoor track and track and field in the spring.

“This is truly going to be a season to remember,” he said. “I’ve had the time of my life and I’ve gotten a chance to coach the greatest kids to be around. We’ve had a lot of success in the years that I’ve coached both boys and girls.”

Tuesday’s season-opening race will be hosted by Purnell Swett High School, and feature Richmond, Purnell Swett, Scotland and Seventy-First high schools. The first race will begin at 5 p.m.

Last modified on Monday, 09 September 2019 16:07

Kyle Pillar

Sports Editor. IUP communications media and journalism alumni. English teacher, Ninth Grade Academy.

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