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Small in number but big on heart

BY IVAN SANDERS
STAR SPORTS EDITOR
ivan.sanders@elizabethton.com
When going to a cross country meet where the Happy Valley Warriors are running, one might have to look hard to spot the maroon and white-clad runners take the course for the Warriors cross country program.

The reason being is that there are only three members who will be somewhere in the midst of the group of runners participating for the 2021 running season.

And even though they might only be three, count on those to be just as close to the front of the pack when the race ends as they battle to set their personal records while gunning for a shot at the state cross country meet.

“We are low in numbers but I am really pleased with the ones who have come out and stuck with it,” said cross country coach Matt Estep. “We had people that quit for a variety of reasons but I can’t worry about who is not out here, I am worried about who is out there.

“We actually go senior, junior, and sophomore as we have one in each class. If we can get our numbers up next year we can do well as a team.”

This year’s team members are senior Holly Moore, junior Gracyn Carder, and sophomore Juley Nieminski.

For Moore, it’s all about being a good leader for her remaining two teammates as she is competing in her fourth year of competition and has seen a large drop in her times from her sophomore to junior seasons in the 5K.

“It’s really important to me because we have had a lot of people that have quit or something has happened that they can’t run anymore so I feel like they need a leader or someone that can just guide them along,” shared Moore.

The goal is really simple for Estep and his small group.

“For this year, our goal is to try to get as many people as we can to qualify as individuals to go to state. We have a good shot. They have worked hard, they do what they are asked, and they have run well so far,” Estep stated.

Estep said that the disruption that has come from COVID and its impact on the school year, especially last year, has not helped many sports when it comes to the number of athletes that have come out to participate.

“Our numbers are lower and it’s not just cross country – our basketball and football are low for us,” shared Estep. “I think when things get back to normal whenever that happens to be, hopefully sooner than later, I think you will see more participation.

“Right now where things are so disruptive as to whether we are going to be in school or quarantined, I think a lot of them don’t have an interest in participating in things.”

Estep noted that even though the numbers are low team-wise, that hasn’t hampered the work habits or the spirit that his three runners come to practice with.

“We have been working on our pace a lot and have been dropping their times in practice,” Estep commented. “We just need to keep up the hard work. I am really proud of them and we just need to keep improving.

“They would rather have a full team but at the same time, cross country and track are sports that you can excel at individually so they have just focused on getting to where they need to be to make it to state.”

Moore added, “So far the commitment of the ones we have left and have stayed with it means that they are fully committed to the team. For those that have never run, they definitely need to come out here and give it a try because they will never know how good they could be unless they give it a try.”