By Blake Ells
Mountain Brook’s cross-country teams will travel to Portland, Oregon, on Sept. 30 to compete in the Nike Portland XC Invite.
A trip to a far-away meet has become a tradition over the past two decades, with the team rotating years flying and bussing. This time they’ll be in a field of about 60 teams at one of the premier events in the country.
“Mountain Brook cross country was great long before I got here and it’ll be great long after I leave,” said coach Michael McGovern. “When I call a place like that, most of the time, they’ve heard of us and they’re intrigued by the idea of having a team competing that is from that far away.”
After all, the girls team had won 13 consecutive state championships leading into last season; 23 overall. The boys’ team has 13 state championships of its own. The name on the jersey has some cache.
Last year, the girls team was blocked from the state championship by Huntsville. The boys also came in second, trailing only Auburn in the championship.
The teams have competed in national meets in Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Arizona, Fayetteville, Dallas, Orlando and Stillwater. Each trip allows the runners a chance to tour local universities and compete against different teams.
“These trips are always so valuable because it is a great opportunity to bond, tour colleges and have a lot of fun together,” said junior Anna Balzli. “Another reason we are so grateful for this opportunity is because this is one of the few chances the team has to compete against fresh faces, and running at what is also used as the nationals course is going to be an incredibly humbling and eye-opening experience.”
In Portland, the runners will trek to Hayward Field, which will host the NCAA Track and Field National Championship in 2017, and they’ll tour the University of Oregon in Eugene.
Balzli was the girls top finisher at the Spartans’ meet at Chickasaw Trails in Oakville earlier this month, placing ninth out of 250 runners in the 5,000-meter run with a time of 19:20.08.
The boys’ top returner from 2016, Hunter Harwell, also a junior, posted the best finish in that meet. Harwell’s 16:11.74 was enough for a 10th-place finish out of 315 runners in the 5,000-meter run.
For the meet, the girls finished second among 35 schools, scoring 96 points. The boys finished fifth out of 46 schools, scoring 189 points. The first meet of 2017 was canceled because of Hurricane Harvey.
They’ll continue tuning up in Alabama with meets in Scottsboro and Tuscaloosa before the big trip. Afterward, the Hoover Invitational and Sectionals take place Oct. 19 and Nov. 2, respectively, at Spain Park High School. The season is young, but Balzli and her teammates are focused on returning the Spartans to the top.
“One of the biggest goals of our team is to reclaim the state championship title and stay close together during races, providing support to one another,” said Balzli. ❖