Clanahan leads motivated Generals to success

Mary Clanahan

QUICKSBURG — Two points.

That was a big theme for Stonewall Jackson’s girls cross country team this year. Last year they were two points short of qualifying for the state meet, and they used that as motivation.

“The 2 points from regionals last year. That just lingered, hung there, it was like a dark cloud the whole season,” Stonewall Jackson coach Mary Clanahan said. “They always reminded each other ‘2 points, 2 points.'”

The Generals made sure that 2 points would be costly this year as they finished second in the Region 1A East meet to easily qualify for the state meet for the first time in 10 years. They finished fifth in the Group 1A state meet, just 3 points from fourth place.

“We were very fortunate to have the girls that we had,” Clanahan said. “If one was down and out there was somebody else to take their place and step up. We’re very fortunate to have the girls that we had. And they balanced each other quite well to say the least.”

The Generals successful season included winning the Shenandoah County meet and the Conference 44 meet.

Clanahan, The Northern Virginia Daily’s 2015 Girls Cross Country Coach of the Year, said that the team really meshed well together.

“Their personalities, each one is very unique, but they all blended,” Clanahan said. “…This group they’re still doing things together. They go bowling, they go to movies. It’s a tradition that will continue to carry on. It’s something that we had years ago and it’s back in.

“It’s a sisterhood.”

The Generals had to battle some illness and injuries this season. Clanahan said that senior Hayley Gibson, who ran cross country for the first time this year, missed some time due to illness. Sophomore LuLu Funkhouser was out for a month due to a hip injury.

Despite the injuries and illness, Stonewall Jackson continued to do well as others stepped up, including junior Brandy Webb.

Funkhouser was the team’s top runner early in the season, but when she suffered her injury it was Webb who took the leadership role and top spot.

Webb won the Conference 44 meet, finished second in the Region 1A East meet and 17th in the Group 1A state meet. It was her third straight appearance in the state meet.

Clanahan said one of her most memorable moments was Webb winning the Conference 44 meet, and placing second behind Rappahannock County’s Julia Wood at the region meet. Clanahan said that she had to be at the finish line, because the Generals were hosting the meet at Panorama Farms, and the last time she had seen Webb she was in fourth place.

“The next thing I know, I’m expecting the girl from Lancaster, who also had a red jersey, that’s who was in second the last time I saw,” Clanahan said. “Then I hear everybody yelling for Brandy coming around the turn in the woods and I’m like ‘Brandy?’ And there’s this big smile on this kids face. For her to be the runner-up over at Panorama, that was probably one of our favorite moments.”

Clanahan said there was never any jealousy on the team, everyone wanted to do what was best for the team and cheered each other on.

The Generals, who dropped from a 2A school last year to 1A this year, had only one senior. With such a young team, Clanahan said the future is bright for the program.

“When we were at our (fall) banquet they said we just look at the next step,” Clanahan said. “We know where we finished and we have room to grow. Fifth is nice, but we have room to grow. We can move to fourth or we can go higher. The top’s the limit. One would be nice. The podium is where they would like to be.

“They really want to be on that podium as that group.”

Clanahan has been the cross country coach for 13 years, and her husband, Kelly, is her assistant. She said they look at the team as family, and part of their family.

Clananhan said that the time spent with the athletes is what makes coaching so special.

“Kelly and I talk about this, that we receive more than I think we give a lot of time,” Clanahan said. “What we receive from these kids is things that we wish their parents could have — the laughter and the talks that we have with the kids. …We will remember these times with these kids.'”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com