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Vina cross-country making strong debut

By Staff
Scot Beard
VINA – Usually when a high school adds a new sport to its athletic department there are a few years of growing pains as the athletes learn the basics of the sport and develop their fundamentals.
This has not been the case for the Vina girls cross-country team, which is currently ranked No. 4 in Class 1A-2A and No. 52 overall in its first season.
"Some of the parents approached me about starting a team," said Vina cross-country coach Nathan Davidson. "Principal James Pharr and Athletic Director Bill Smith were very supportive. We wouldn't be where we are if not for them."
As good as the team is, it should only get better in time as the oldest member is a sophomore and the other six runners are in the seventh and eighth grades.
Davidson's daughter Emily is the most experienced runner on the team, winning three individual state titles in track last year. Eighth-grader Heather Thorn is the only other member of the team with competitive running experience.
Some coaches might have been worried with a team like that, but Davidson began having the girls run in May to prepare them for the upcoming season.
Besides a lack of experience, the team faced other challenges.
Nobody on the team – the coach included – knew what a cross-country course looked like, so the girls practiced on logging roads. The team's speed was also slow to develop.
"At the time, our fastest runner ran a mile in about 91/2 minutes," Davidson said.
Fast forward to the end of the summer and the speeds were up. Davidson said team members can now complete a three-mile run in about 24 minutes each.
Emily Davidson is the team's top runner and has been the first Lady Red Devil to cross the finish line at every meet so far. Her father said she has embraced a leadership role on the team and is like a big sister to the other team members.
Thorne started out as the fourth best runner, but has improved to the second best. She set a personal-record time of 23 minutes and 14 seconds in the 5,000 meters at the Dew It On The Trails meet Oct. 4.
Davidson said Shelly Morris has been very dedicated to improving and has put in quite a bit of time practicing.
"She is also in the band and she works harder than anybody as far as time," Davidson said. "I have to make her stop."
Fallyn Shotts recently recorded her first Top-25 finish, but she always strives to do better. Davidson said she is extremely competitive and does not like to lose to anybody.
Overall, Davidson said he is blessed to have such a great group of runners that are dedicated to succeeding.
"They work harder than most adults I know," Davidson said.
None of the runners exhibit this trait like final three members of the team.
Kelsey Steward had an asthma attack during an event and fell down on the course. After a few minutes, she got up and finished the race.
Miranda Howard has knee issues and does most of her cardiovascular training on an exercise bike.
Alex Miller has also had to have extensive rehab for knee and shoulder problems.
"They keep on coming and keep on running," Davidson said. "That is why we are ranked where we are. They are a wonderful group of kids you don't find very often."
Davidson said the girls do the work required to keep on going, which includes two days of practice per week.
Of course, many of the team members run on off days, usually about 3-5 miles. Some of the girls even run five or six days each week.
Davidson estimates that by the end of the season six of the girls will have ran about 350 miles since May. Steward, who transferred to Vina during the summer, is a little bit behind but she has ran an impressive 250 miles so far.
Davidson said the reason parents wanted a cross-country program is to keep the girls in shape for other sports. Many of the runners also play basketball and will be well conditioned when the season starts.
Saturday, the team will participate in the Section meet at Heritage Christian University in Florence. If they finish in the top three as a team, the Red Devils will advance to the state meet Nov. 8 at Oakville Indian Mounds Park and Museum in Moulton.