Photo: Southside High School seniors Luke Holcombe (left) and Ryan Maudsley signed cross country scholarships with Wallace State-Hanceville on December 16. (Submitted photo)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
For at least two more years, Luke Holcombe and Ryan Maudsley will hit the ground running together.
The Southside High School seniors signed cross country scholarships with Wallace State-Hanceville on December 16.
“For Luke and Ryan to be signing with Wallace State is a great opportunity,” said Southside cross country coach Kim Nails. “These boys are our family, and we’re looking forward to watching them grow and mature as young men at Wallace and become the best runners they can be.”
The pair helped the 2021 Panthers win a fourth straight Etowah County Schools championship and take second place at the Class 6A Section 5 meet.
In nine events in 2021, Holcombe finished in the top 5 five times, including four runner-up efforts. He capped his senior season with a PR of 16:12, the second fastest time school history. He finished 19th out of 258 runners at the AHSAA state meet, was an All-County selection all three varsity seasons and qualified to run in the state all three of his varsity years.
A pair of former standout Southside runners helped inspire Holcombe’s goal of running cross country in college.
“Ever since I watched both Hunter Nails (UAH) and Taylor Nails (Wallace Hanceville) commit, I knew in the back of my mind that I wanted to have the same feeling that they had,” he said. “They definitely pushed me to where I wanted to be today.”
Prior to his sophomore year, Holcombe decided to forego playing football and concentrate exclusively on running. Holcombe’s determination and work ethic caught the eye of Kim Nails early on, as he improved his 5K PR from 17:26 as a sophomore to 16.46 as a junior.
“After that, I knew that I wanted to run in college,” he said. “I started training with (SHS junior) Ryan and Jackson Griggs and Parker Cunningham over the summer and really putting the miles in. I can’t remember how many times I called my mom and dad and told that that I had to run late. I sacrificed a lot, but I also gained a lot, so it’s been a great experience.”
Kim Nails noted that she would see Holcomb’s car parked on Saturdays and Sundays at the Rainbow Middle School track as he logged his miles.
“That told me that Luke had the drive, determination, self-discipline and work ethic to compete at the next level,” she said. “Luke’s success wasn’t a result of just having a good race; it was a result of his hard work and the miles he put in June, July and August. That’s where you become the best runner you can be.”
Kim Nails pointed to Holcomb’s this past season experience at the Southern Showcase in Huntsville, where he competed against 457 other runners and finished a half-second out of first place in his division.
“As the race went on and the runners began to thin, Luke was in the top mix. He continued to reel in the leader, and if had he had just another 10th of a mile, I believe he would have won the race. We are very proud of Luke and his achievement and how hard he was willing to work to give himself the opportunity to be here today.”
A six-time all-county and all-section and two-time all-state selection, Maudsley began his cross country career as a seventh grader. He decided he wanted to run in college during his freshman season. He burst onto the scene during his sophomore season, finishing first in the county and in sectionals while leading the Panthers to a second straight county sectional title. He set a personal record of 16:31 on his way to making the all-state team.
Some prodding from Taylor Nails helped Maudsley attain the above achievements.
“Taylor would always pick me up on Sundays and force me to run with him. That helped keep me motivated to do well.”
Maudsley’s junior year of 2020 was hampered by a hip injury, which led to therapy sessions and regular visits to the chiropractor. However, he pushed through the discomfort to compete in all nine 5K events on the schedule.
“Knowing that to compete, you have to be running and training but also knowing that the running was not giving time for healing was like a Catch-22 for Ryan,” said Nails. “I know it was frustrating for him. But he knew the team needed him, so we juggled the workouts to try to maintain his fitness while trying not to not worsen his hip.”
Maudsley rebounded this year to finish in the top 10 in five of his nine events. He placed 32nd out of 258 runners at the state meet. He finished third in the county and ninth at sectionals.
“It pretty much didn’t start getting better until this season,” he said. “I had a late start to the season because of a slight cast during the summer, so I had to keep pushing when the rest of team had some tapering weeks. But even though my times were a minute or two slower that what I used to run, this season was the hardest racing I’d ever done.”
“Ryan is a great example of persevering through adversity, and we are extremely proud of the impact he has made over the last six years,” said Nails. “He’s been vital to the success of our program. I’m so proud for him and the opportunity he has before him.”
Wallace Hanceville is the four-time defending state champions in the Alabama Community College Conference. Coach Stan Narewski was named the 2021 ACCC Coach of the Year as Wallace-Hanceville captured its ninth overall conference title.
“Ryan and Luke obviously are excellent runners, and their background in the Southside program means that they’re well coached and well educated,” said Narewski. “I know that Coach Nails give them an understanding of why they’re doing what they’re doing, which is what we do with our kids. If we get someone from that program, we know they’re going to be low maintenance.
Someone can tell me of a good 15-minute guy who wants to come to Wallace, but if he’s not a good guy, we don’t want him. These are two great young men who are a great fit for our program. In terms of character and ability and talent, Ryan and Luke are going to be great additions.”
Maudsley and Holcombe are looking forward to joining the premiere junior college cross country program in the state.
“I visited a couple other college’s but what [Wallace Hanceville] offered was right up my alley, and the campus felt like home,” said Holcombe. “I also appreciated how friendly Coach Stan was when talked to me after my meets, whether it was a small meet or the state meet. I really enjoyed that.”
“I’ve been to a couple of [running] camps when Coach Stan was the head person, and I really liked him,” said Maudsley. “I also like the idea of knocking out the basic [college] courses at a lower price.”
Both Holcombe and Maudsley plan on continuing their academic and athletic careers at UAH after graduating from Wallace, so they are looking forward to several more years together on the 5K courses. Both are planning on majoring in mechanical engineering.
“To be able to run with my best friend at the collegiate, especially with all the injuries he’s had to deal with, is absolutely amazing,” said Holcombe. “I remember looking up to him when I started and now getting to run with him in college is something special.”
“I like running with guys who are near the same speed as me,” said Maudsley. “It helps makes training easier, especially with someone’s who is a good friend.”
Both runners will compete in the distance events in the upcoming track and field season, Holcomb in the 800, 1600 and 3200-meter runs and Maudsley in the 1600 and 3200.
“One of our goals as a team is to break the school record in the 4×800 like we did last year,” said Holcombe. “We’ve got the team to do it again this year, and me Ryan and Jackson are talking about finding a fourth man. We want to drop that time down to the point where it won’t get broken again.”
“Hopefully me and Luke and Jackson can qualify in the 16 and 32 and get to go to state,” said Maudsley. “I think we can also qualify in the 4×800 if we continue to train together and stay healthy.”