Photo: The 2022 Gadsden State cross country team gathers for a photo. Pictured, kneeling, from left: Chloe Davidson, Mallory Rich, Keira Johnson, Lacey Rich, Jordan Clark, Gabby More, Rhylee Bell. Standing, from left: Jaylon Rivers, Jose Benetiz, Yael Lucas, Ashton Vann, Justin Dempsey, Javier Soto. (Courtesy of Gadsden State)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
The first Gadsden State cross country team in 11 years is ready to hit the proverbial road.
Head coach Roseann Green, who has been on the recruiting trail shortly after her hiring in November of 2021, feels she has put together a men and women’s team that will give the other seven Alabama Community College Conference schools a run for their money.
Gadsden State discontinued its women’s cross country program following the 2011 season. This is the first time the school will field a men’s team.
“The kids have been at training since June 1 as far as their on-their-own running goes, and we began organized practices at the beginning of August 1 for six days a week, so we’re ready to go.”
Green was pleased with the results of a pre-season time trail last week.
“They’ve really improved,” she said. “We had some impressive times that I was really proud of. Our training and our paces are aligned so that if they set a PR, we re-adjust and re-align their paces to work toward a new goal.”
Several local runners grace the women’s roster, including 2022 Hokes Bluff graduate Keira Johnson and 2022 Southside graduates Lacey Rich and Mallory Rich.
Mallory and Lacey’s freshman team in 2018 was the first Southside team to win a sectional meet and advance to the state meet. The Lady Panthers repeated as sectional champions in Mallory and Lacey’s sophomore year of 2019 and finished runner-up in 2020 and 2021. Southside won the Etowah County Schools title all four of Mallory and Lacey’s high school careers.
Johnson’s season PR of 24:33.72 at the Class 3A Section 3 meet last season qualified her as a wild card for the state meet.
2021 Coosa Christian graduate Chloe Davidson, who was a member of the women’s basketball team last year, will join the cross country team this fall.
Filling out the women’s team are Rhylee Bell from Pisgah, Jordan Clark from Arab and Gabby More from Hewitt-Trussville.
The men’s team includes Ashton Vann from Ashville, Jose Benitez from Clay-Central, Justin Dempsey from Oxford, Yael Lucas Mendoza from Douglas, Jaylon Rivers from Lincoln and Javier Medina Soto from Fort Payne.
Vann helped the 2021 Ashville boys cross country team finish third overall in Class 4A and first in public schools. Vann’s 5K time of 17:21.18 placed him 17th out of 160 runners at the state meet.
Green has the team practicing at various locations in order to get accustomed to different surfaces, including the Gadsden Sports Park on the college campus, the Gadsden City High School track, the Jams D. Martin Wildlife Park behind the Gadsden Mall and the Black Creek Trail at Noccolula Falls Park.
“I like to be able to take the kids around town and get them off the pavement as much as I can,” she said. “Gadsden has a lot to offer with outdoor recreation, so we definitely try to maximize the spots that we can train on.”
A cross country course is planned to be a part of the Gadsden Sports Park on campus.
“As far as I know, [the course] has been drawn out by the city planners,” she said. “I’ve given them a little input about where a starting line could be and the options about the layout for a 5K, an 8K and possibly a 10K race.”
Green was the cross country coach at Hokes Bluff High School from 2017 to 2020. The Eagles marked Green’s final year with a second-place finish at the Etowah County meet and qualified for the Class 3A state meet as a team, with Green’s son Sam medaling in the Top 15. Sam is currently a sophomore on the Jacksonville State cross country team.
Jackson Millander, who ran for Green at Hokes Bluff, will be her assistant this season. He is currently a junior at JSU.
The Cardinals’ Alabama Community College Conference competition includes Marion Military, Wallace-Hanceville, Enterprise State, Calhoun, Southern Union, Jefferson State and Shelton State.
“As a team this season, our goal is to finish in the top three in the conference,” said Green. “I think that’s a very attainable goal.”
The Cardinals kick off the season this Friday, September 2, at the JSU Foothills Invitational at Oxford’s Choccolocco Park. Gadsden State then travel to Huntsville on September 16 for the North Alabama Showcase hosted by the University of North Alabama.
“Overall, this team consists of diamonds in the rough who were underdeveloped high school runners with obvious potential,” said Green. “I’ve watched them improve since June, and I know that the improvement will continue throughout the season.”