By Jeff Nations
QUICKSBURG -- Brandy Webb just needed a little bit of time to warm up for the cross country season last year.
Then just a freshman, Webb struggled in her first varsity invitational meet for the Generals at Eastern Mennonite. It worried Stonewall Jackson coach Mary Clanahan enough that she opted to drop the promising freshman to the junior-varsity 'B' race the following week at Wilson Memorial.
That worked, all right -- Webb won the race in impressive fashion, earning her spot back with the varsity group and laying a foundation for a great freshman season.
"I was the back runner -- in the very back," Webb said. "Miss Clanahan, when I came my freshman year, she kind of pushed me to do my best and I did a lot better than I thought I would."
Provided she stays healthy this season, Webb shouldn't be anywhere near the back for the Generals. Clanahan has high expectations for her prized sophomore, who now takes on the role of team leader after taking her cues from standout graduated senior Ashton Davis last year.
"We're looking forward to her leadership," Clanahan said. "It's on her shoulders to lead the incoming freshmen that we've got this year, which we've got a nice group coming in who had successful middle school experience."
Webb couldn't have had a better role model for leadership than Davis, who completed her career as an all-state performer after finishing 14th at last year's Group AA state cross country championship. Davis had only one teammate join her at states last year -- Webb.
Although her 23rd-place finish didn't earn all-state honors (reserved for the top 15), Webb had plenty to smile about afterward. Her state time of 20 minutes, 53 seconds on the rolling course at Great Meadow was a personal best, by a lot.
"I was just trying to do my best," Webb said. "The numbers kind of scared me a little bit, but then I got out there and the numbers didn't matter anymore. It was just all about running."
In between that shaky start and tremendous finish is where Webb developed as a strong runner. Following her breakthrough win at Wilson Memorial, Webb continued to impress. She firmly established herself as the Generals' No. 2 runner with a 19th-place effort (22:47.80) at the Stonewall Jackson Invitational, then posted a fast 21:39.4 time in the Albemarle Invitational against a stacked field last October.
Heading into championship season, Webb seemed to find another gear. She finished fourth in the Conference 35 meet in 22:24.30, then came back a week later to finish 18th in the 2A East Regional meet in 21:19 at Panorama Farms to earn her spot in the state competition.
"I got the sheet of paper of my times from the beginning of the season to the end of the season, and I was really surprised," Webb said. "Every meet, I was knocking off a couple minutes."
Webb credits Davis with much of her success last season, from the example she set to the knowledge she passed on to her younger teammates.
"She was a good runner and she knew it, but she wasn't snobby about it like some people are," Webb said. "It's like they know they're a good runner and they're like, 'OK, so you all suck,' basically. She was an all-around good person and I kind of wanted to be like that. Everybody gravitated toward her because she's such a good person.
"She was a big influence on me trying my best. She was like my mentor, and she's kind of like my idol because she's extraordinarily fast."
Webb has the chance to be even better, but that doesn't mean she's expecting the competition to just step aside for her this year. Even on her own team, Webb said she's getting pushed by runners like incoming freshman Lulu Funkhouser.
That's helped motivate Webb to put in her work and get ready to make the next step as a runner. The end goal is to match her idol, Davis, as an all-state runner this season.
"I'm definitely looking to at least medal," Webb said. "I want to be up there on that podium with the other girls."
Clanahan might be the least-surprised person at Great Meadow if that's exactly what happens this season.
"Her internal drive is a lot like Ashton's," Clanahan said. "It's such a mental sport, and Ashton's mentality and Brandy's mentality are very similar. That in itself helped blend with each other.
"... The sky's the limit for that young lady, and it will be a pleasure to ride it with her."
Contact staff writer Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or email@example.com