Gadsden State runners off to the races

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Photo: The 2023 Gadsden State men and women cross country teams. Pictured, front row, from left: Lexi Byrd, Lacey Rich, Jordan Clark (captain), Keira Johnson, McKinley Kay, Gabby More. Back row, from left; Lane Griffin, Travis Cooley, Conner Strawn, DeShaun Foster, Ashton Vann, Jonah Medders.  (submitted photo) 

By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor

Gadsden State cross country coach, Roseanne Green acknowledged that Year 1 of the program was a learning experience for both her and her runners, particularly in how to maximize training sessions.
“I’ve learned how to increase our aerobic fitness with the minimum amount of mileage,” she said. “I feel like we over-trained in a lot of ways last year, and we limped into the conference meet and nationals with three out of our six girl runners hurt. So we really worked on unilateral leg strength during the spring, and when I look at my runners right now, they’re stronger than they were at the beginning of last season. What we need to do now is monitor ourselves and treat the regular season as training [for the conference and national meets].”
The returning sophomore women are Keira Johnson from Hokes Bluff, Lacey Rich from Southside, Jordan Clark from Arab and Gabby More from Hewitt-Trussville. The incoming freshmen are McKinley Kay from Glencoe and Lexi Byrd from Lincoln.
The women finished fourth overall at the 2022 Alabama Community College Conference to qualify as a team for the National Junior College Athletic Association meet. Clark finished eighth out of 45 runners at the ACCC meet, while Rich came in 19th place.
“Lexi is set to be our No. 2 [runner] behind Jordan,” said Green, who was cross country coach at Hokes Bluff High School from 2017 to 2020. “McKinley didn’t miss a single day of summer training, and we expect her to be our third or fourth. She’s just a super hard worker. I think adding those two girls has brought a lot of energy and speed to the team, which I think helps to motivate the other girls to push themselves a little bit more. Jordan was injured for a lot of the summer, so her running training wasn’t what she wanted it to be, but she looks impressive and she’s our girls’ captain. Kiera and Lacey also have stepped up.”
Green noted that Rich’s twin sister Mallory, who ran last year, left the team to focus full-time on her nursing career.
The lone returning sophomore for the men is Ashton Vann of Ashville. Vann qualified for the NJCAA meet last year by finishing 14th out of 58 runners at the Alabama Community College Conference 8K Meet in late October.
“Ashton is a great kid who does whatever is asked of him,” said Green. “He’s a very consistent runner, and I’m looking forward to big things from him.”
The men’s freshmen class consists of Conner Strawn from Glencoe, Travis Cooley from Lincoln, DeShaun Foster and Jonah Medders from Alexandria and Lane Griffin from Fort Payne.
“Lane is going to be our No. 1 coming into the season, then Ashton at No. 2 and either Conner or Jonah in the third and fourth spots,” said Green.
Green said the communication between she and the team is much better this season.
“These kids are much more talkative, and they tell me how they’re feeling, whereas I wasn’t getting that last year. This group also trained a lot more during the summer, which did not happen last year. I’m much more receptive to this group, because I know that they’ve put the work in.”
The Cardinals’ Alabama Community College Conference competition includes Marion Military, Wallace-Hanceville, Enterprise State, Calhoun, Southern Union, Jefferson State and Shelton State.
“For the guys’ top three [finishers], I see Wallace, Marion and us,” said Green. “For the girls, I see Wallace, Calhoun and us. I think we’ll be competitive, and our boys team has the chance to be really good.”
The Cardinals kick off the season September 1 at the JSU Foothills Invitational at Oxford’s Choccolocco Park. Gadsden State then travels to Huntsville on September 16 for the North Alabama Showcase, to Chattanooga, Tenn., on September 30 for the Mountainside Stride, to Huntsville on October 7 for the Charger Invitational and to Danville on October 13 for the Warhawk Invitational. The ACCC state meet is scheduled for October 24 in Huntsville and the NJCAA Championships will be November 11 in Huntsville.
Green added that the wheels are in motion for the construction of a cross country course in the Gadsden Sports Park located in back of the Wallace Drive campus. She said that the final layout of the trail should include 4K, 5K, 8K 10K loops in anticipation of hosting top-flight state and national meets.
“We’ve had [the area] surveyed, and we’re working some grants with several local groups,” she said. “We need to do some clearing and have to put in at least two bridges that we hope we can get Alabama Power to help with.”
Green said that former University of North Alabama and current Jacksonville State cross country coach Jeremy Provence agreed to provide input for the project.
“We’re trying to make sure that this will be a premiere cross country course, and Coach Provence was eager to help. He knows how to get things done.”

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