NEW MARKET – Two points.
That’s all that separated Stonewall Jackson High School’s girls cross country team from a state berth last season. With most of last year’s team back and some strong new additions, the Generals have plenty of reasons to have high hopes this season.
“They’re on a mission,” Stonewall Jackson coach Mary Clanahan said. “…They were a little heartbroken (last year). They handled it very maturely, and that kind of sets the bar for the following year.”
Clanahan said she was very pleased with the turnout she had during the summer to run.
Sophomore LuLu Funkhouser and junior Brandy Webb are the top two returners from last year’s team. Both qualified for the Group 2A state meet last year, and want to go back with the team this season.
“It was awesome,” Funkhouser said of last year’s state meet. “The two of us being there and then (boys runner) Pedro (Jacuinde) was with us. It was awesome, but having our whole team there this year, hopefully, it will be great. That’s our No. 1 goal.”
Webb placed 26th in the state meet, while Funkhouser was 17th, just two spots from making All-State honors.
It was the second straight year Webb had qualified for the state meet, and she’s the most experienced cross country runner on this year’s squad. She said she and Funkhouser have tried to help some of the younger runners so far this season.
“We try to show the girls the ropes, what to do, what not to do during the races,” Webb said.
Sophomore J.J. Dellinger, Stonewall’s No. 3 runner last year, also returns to help give the team more depth as well as sophomore Susannah Garber. One new addition with state experience is senior Hayley Gibson.
It is the first time Gibson has ever run cross country. Gibson transferred from Battlefield High School last year and chose cheerleading in the fall, but she ran track for the Generals and finished fifth in the Group 2A state meet.
“So far the distance has been challenging, but I’m just trying to get more in shape for track season. I think it will work out well,” Gibson said. “I’m trying to run track in college, so I figured the more experience I get the better it will be.”
Clanahan said she’s real pleased to have Gibson, the team’s only senior, on the squad.
“It’s different,” Clanahan said. “It’s an adjustment for her gait. She’s got that internal drive that she’ll overcome some of the other obstacles with the internal drive, because of the competitiveness in her.”
Clanahan said she was also pleased to have sophomore Abbigail Simon come out for the team this year. She said Simon played volleyball and girls basketball last year as a freshman. The Generals also have two freshman that are part of a triplet set on the cross country team – Carley and Haley Bennett.
The Generals have a young squad, but Clanahan said that should not be a problem.
“A lot of people are like ‘oh you got a really young team,’ but we have a young team with a lot of experience in athletics and a lot of drive,” Clanahan said.
The Generals will also be moving down to Group 1A this season, but Clanahan said it will still be very tough to advance to the state meet as there are a lot of good runners at that level.
The Generals will be the host school for the Region 1A East meet, which will be held at Panorama Farms just outside of Charlottesville. That is the same course where the Generals came up short of their state bid last season.
One advantage the Generals could have in the postseason is hosting the Conference 44 meet at their New Market Battlefield Park course. The team practices there every day on the very difficult course.
“It benefits us so much,” Funkhouser said of the course. “We have everything in our course. We have rolling hills. We have steep hills. We have the woods. …It helps us more than it hurts us, and that’s the most important thing.”
Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or firstname.lastname@example.org