Photo: The 2022 Gadsden State Cross Country Team gathers for a photo. Pictured kneeling from left: Chloe Davidson, Mallory Rich, Keira Johnson, Lacey Rich, Jordan Clark, Gabby More, Rhylee Bell. Standing, from left: Jaylon Rivers, Jose Benetiz, Yael Lucas, Ashton Vann, Justin Dempsey, Javier Soto. (Courtesy of Gadsden State)
By Chris McCarthy, Editor/Editor
The first Gadsden State Cross Country Team in 11 years is ready to hit the proverbial road.
Head coach Roseann Green, who was on the recruiting lane shortly after being hired in November 2021, feels she’s assembled a men’s and women’s team that will rival the other seven schools in the Alabama Community College Conference.
Gadsden State suspended its women’s cross-country program after the 2011 season. This is the first time the school has fielded a men’s team.
“The kids have been training for independent walking since June 1st and we started organized training six days a week on August 1st, so we are ready to go.”
Green was pleased with the results of a pre-season time trial last week.
“They’ve really improved,” she said. “We had some impressive times that I was really proud of. Our training and pace are aligned in such a way that when they set a PR, we readjust and recalibrate their pace to work toward a new goal.”
Several local runners grace the women’s roster, including Keira Johnson, who graduated from Hokes Bluff in 2022, and Lacey Rich and Mallory Rich, the 2022 Southside graduates.
Mallory and Lacey’s freshman team in 2018 became the first Southside team to win a section meet and advance to the state meet. The Lady Panthers repeated Mallory and Lacey’s sophomore year as section champions in 2019, finishing runners-up in 2020 and 2021. Southside won the Etowah County Schools title in all four of Mallory and Lacey’s high school careers.
Johnson’s season PR of 24:33.72 at the Class 3A Section 3 meeting last season qualified her as a wild card to the state meeting.
2021 Coosa Christian graduate Chloe Davidson, who was a member of the women’s basketball team last year, will join the cross country team this fall.
The women’s team is completed by Rhylee Bell from Pisgah, Jordan Clark from Arab and Gabby More from Hewitt-Trussville.
The men’s team consists of Ashton Vann from Ashville, Jose Benitez from Clay-Central, Justin Dempsey from Oxford, Yael Lucas Mendoza from Douglas, Jaylon Rivers from Lincoln and Javier Medina Soto from Fort Payne.
Vann helped the 2021 Ashville boys’ cross country team finish third overall in Class 4A and first in public schools. Vann’s 5K time of 17:21.18 put him 17th out of 160 runners at the state meeting.
Green has the team practice at a variety of locations to get used to different surfaces, including Gadsden Sports Park on the college campus, the Gadsden City High School track, the Jams D. Martin Wildlife Park behind Gadsden Mall and the Black Creek Trail in Noccolula Falls Park.
“I like to take the kids around town and pick them off the sidewalk as much as possible,” she said. “Gadsden has a lot to offer when it comes to outdoor recreation so we’re definitely trying to maximize the places we can train.”
A cross country course is planned as part of Gadsden Sports Park on campus.
“As far as I know, [the course] was worked out by the city planners,” she said. “I gave them a bit of input on where a start line might be and what the options are for a 5K, an 8K and possibly a 10K race.”
Green was the cross country coach at Hokes Bluff High School from 2017-2020. The Eagles marked Greens with a second place finish at last year’s Etowah County meet and qualified as a team for the Class 3A state meet, with Green’s son Sam winning a medal in the top 15. Sam is currently a sophomore in cross country Jacksonville State team.
Jackson Millander, who ran for Green at Hokes Bluff, will be her assistant this season. He is currently a junior at JSU.
The Cardinals’ Alabama Community College Conference competition includes Marion Military, Wallace-Hanceville, Enterprise State, Calhoun, Southern Union, Jefferson State and Shelton State.
“Our goal as a team this season is to finish in the top three in the conference,” said Green. “I think that’s a very achievable goal.”
The Cardinals open the season this Friday, September 2 at the JSU Foothills Invitational at Choccolocco Park in Oxford. Gadsden State then travels to Huntsville on September 16 for the North Alabama Showcase hosted by the University of North Alabama.
“Overall, this team is made up of diamonds in the rough who were underdeveloped high school runners with obvious potential,” Green said. “Since June I’ve watched them improve and I know the improvement will continue throughout the season.”