By Blake Ells
Mountain Brook Cross Country trekked to the Nike Portland XC Invite in late September and earned a 10th place finish among boys’ teams and a 13th place finish among girls’ teams.
More than 6,000 runners from across the country competed in the prestigious meet. Sophomore Amanda Jones topped all of her competition in the sophomore girls race, a promising sign for the future of a young Spartans girls team that has just four seniors.
An out-of-state trip has become something coach Michael McGovern likes to do with his team each season. Not only does it allow his runners to compete against elite competition they wouldn’t otherwise see, it allows them an opportunity to see different parts of the country.
While in Oregon, the Spartans visited Eugene, affectionately known as “Track Town U.S.A.” Both teams had an opportunity to run on Pre’s Trail, a four-mile trail that was the inspiration of Olympian Steve Prefontaine. They were able to check out Autzen Stadium, home to the Oregon Ducks. They toured Nike’s World Headquarters and took part in a product study.
The competition helped prepare both teams for the meets that count.
“As I told our teams, they’re not going to see competition like that the rest of the way,” said McGovern. “These are some of the better teams in the country. Some of the teams ranked in the top 25 were there. It was something that definitely got us ready for the rest of our season.”
Upon their return, the Spartans competed in Dew it on the Trails in Decatur and the Hoover Invitational at Spain Park High School. The girls’ team won at Decatur, topping defending champion Huntsville, and the boys’ team finished second. The two teams replicated those results at the Hoover Invitational.
Anna Balzli and Hunter Harwell were their team’s top finishers at both meets. Now, the Spartans turn their attention to Sectionals on Nov. 2 at Spain Park High School, with hopes of returning to the State Championships in Oakville on Nov. 11.
“Obviously, our first goal is to qualify from the toughest section in the state,” said McGovern. “A lot of coaches refer to it as the ‘Section of Death,’ because it’s that tough. Our girls would probably be considered the favorite, but Hoover is a really good team; they’ve beaten us once this year, and we’ve beaten them.”
Three teams will advance to the State Championships, and McGovern believes that four to five teams are capable. Auburn likely will be the girls favorite at State, while Huntsville will be defending their championship and, if the Spartans advance, they’ll probably compete with Hoover again.
Huntsville has already defeated Mountain Brook’s boys twice this season, and if the Spartans have hopes of a state championship, they’ll have to get over that hump. Vestavia Hills will also present a challenge in Oakville.