By Rubin E. Grant
Homewood cross-country coach Josh Donaldson doesn’t like to use the term rebuilding.
But even he had to admit that the Patriots have to do some reconstructing if they are going to continue their dominance.
Homewood’s boys have won eight consecutive Class 6A state cross-country championships, and the girls have won three of the past four state crowns.
“I don’t like calling it a rebuilding year, but on both sides, we’ve got younger teams,” Donaldson said. “All the top girls are gone from (last) year, but we do have a good chunk of the boys returning.
“I’m excited. We have a lot of young talented runners who have stepped (up) and are filling some big shoes.”
The Patriots competed Saturday in their first meet, the 20th Chickasaw Trails Invitational at the Oakville Indian Mounds Park, which will be the site of the Alabama High School Athletic Association state meet in November.
Senior Crawford Hope won the boys 5K championship race with a time of 15:20.75. Vestavia Hills senior Ethan Strand finished second (15:29.82) and Oak Mountain senior Walker Cole was third (15:30.79). Hope and Strand recently committed to the University of North Carolina.
As a team, the Patriots finished 15th, but they are without the 2019 individual state champion, Jon Fielding Stogner. He’s out indefinitely with a foot injury.
“I’m not sure of (the) end diagnosis,” Donaldson said. “He’s been in a boot for a while.”
Junior Jack Harchelroad, one of the Patriots’ other top runners, also didn’t run in the Chickasaw race.
Of the Patriots’ top five finishers, three were sophomores, Grayton Murray, Ben Murray and Sam Gray.
Girls Team Lost Experience
Homewood’s top two girls from the past few years are both running in college, Lainey Phelps at Vanderbilt and Celie Jackson at Baylor.
“We took a big hit with Lainey and Celie leaving, but it’s also fun to watch how they do in college,” Donaldson said.
Sophomore Marin Poleshek is the Patriots’ top returning girls runner. She finished third in the state meet last year with a 5K time of 19:12.
“She was right there with Lainey and Celie last year at the state meet,” Donaldson said. “She’s got a work ethic similar to theirs. It’s fun to watch her run.”
Poleshek wasn’t on top of her game at the Chickasaw, finishing 46th with a time of 21:01.03. Senior Victoria Thompson was the Patriots’ top finisher, coming in 27th with a time of 20:34.38. Freshman Caroline Wilder was Homewood’s next-best finisher at 45th with a time of 21.00.50, just ahead of Poleshek.
Donaldson lists Poleshek, Thompson, junior Lily Blish and sophomores Camille Etheridge and Sydney Dobbins as the team’s top five runners right now.
The Homewood girls placed seventh in the Chickasaw race.
Donaldson wasn’t discouraged about the performances of his teams.
“The end goal is to win a state championship,” he said, “but I want to see improvements. That’s all I’m asking for, in big things and small things.”
Homewood’s route to successfully defending its titles has become more daunting with Mountain Brook moving down from Class 7A and Scottsboro moving up from Class 5A.
Scottsboro has won the past four Class 5A boys titles while Mountain Brook isn’t too far removed from its 2017 Class 7A boys title. Scottsboro finished third in the Chickasaw race.
Although the Mountain Brook girls haven’t won a state championship since 2015, the Spartans have a long history of success. Scottsboro has won the past three girls Class 5A titles. Mountain Brook finished second in the Chickasaw behind Brentwood (Tennessee).
“It doesn’t make it any easier with Mountain Brook and Scottsboro around,” Donaldson said. “The Mountain Brook girls should be the one to beat no matter the classification and the Scottsboro boys will be tough to beat.
“They will give us challenge and there is some pressure, but it’s a privilege to see how we rise to (the) occasion.”