E.A. Sports Today

Straight out of nowhere

Three months ago Anniston didn’t even have a team; today, the Bulldogs are Calhoun County champions; PV wins girls title

The Anniston boys cross country team breaks into its happy dance after collecting the winner’s plaque in the Calhoun County Championship. (Photos by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

OXFORD — The boys team that won the Calhoun County Cross Country Championship Thursday literally came out of nowhere to do it.

Three months ago Anniston didn’t have a formal cross country team; it had some strong individual runners, but not enough to put together a team score. On Thursday, the Bulldogs were running to the podium at Oxford Lake to collect the championship trophy.

The Bulldogs placed four runners in the top 10 and five in the top 12 to edge edged two-time reigning champion Pleasant Valley by three points, 38-41, for the title. And before they left the ceremony they broke into their happy dance to let everyone know who they are and where they’re from.

To see a full gallery of photos from Thursday’s race visit www.bjfranklin.smugmug.com

“For us to not have a team and we came out here to win … I’m really emotional right now,” said senior James Haynes, the Bulldogs’ fastest finisher and architect of the team. “There were some people who really doubted us and we really came out here and ran our butts off.

“When I saw our five had finished before everybody else’s five, that’s when stepped up and said, ‘We did it. We did what we came out here and had to do.’ I really love my teammates; I really do. I’m really just happy right now.”

It was a feeling genuinely shared throughout the runners compound. Pleasant Valley’s record-setting individual winner Matisse Miller, for one, made it a point to enter the Bulldogs’ post-race team huddle to congratulate them.

As recently as last July the Bulldogs didn’t have a team. They would send several runners to compete individually and were likely headed in that direction this year, but a conversation with White Plains coach John Moore after a pre-Woodstock training run together encouraged Haynes to go searching. ((https://www.easportstoday.com/2017/10/20/theyre-on-the-map/https://www.easportstoday.com/2017/10/20/theyre-on-the-map/)

The senior convinced several of his basketball teammates and runners who weren’t playing football in the fall to run together and suddenly the Bulldogs had a team. Just last week they won the Wildcat Fall Classic at White Plains. Two weeks earlier they finished third in their division on the course that will stage the state championship.

“That was really cool, a real success story,” Moore said of the Bulldogs’ breakthrough Thursday. “That’s the kind of stuff you make movies out of.”

“To see Anniston come from not even having a program to where they are is something,” PV coach Brad Hood said. “And it’s not like they just showed out today; they’ve been consistently getting better. It’s not like it’s a flash in the pan, like we had a bad day and they hada good day. They brought it and did what they’ve been doing all year. At least we gave them a race.”

Thursday’s race was expected to be close between Anniston and PV, with the Raiders holding a five-point edge in the virtual meet based on everyone’s best times this season – and it didn’t disappoint.

Haynes led Anniston across the line with a PR 17:17.05, good for fourth, and the two teams occupied the next six spots at the finish. The difference was eighth-grader Christian Myles coming in 12th as the Bulldogs’ fifth man (with a PR 18:22.77), five spots ahead of PV’s fifth finisher, Coleman Haynes.

The Bulldogs finished 4-5-7-10-12, while Pleasant Valley went 1-6-8-9-17. Defending race champion Reed Robinson of Oxford out-sprinted James Haynes to finish third. Myles put on a late burst to pass Ohatchee’s Gabe Hammonds and Oxford’s Dylan Hulsey for pivotal points.

“I had to help my team out,” Myles said. “They just brought me out here as an eighth-grader to work hard and help the team out and help James out because this is his last year. Coach (Lisa) Howard told me I’m the fifth man so I’ve got to get those points to help the team out, so I’ve got to work even harder as they’re working hard. When we finished they said, ‘Good job, Christian, you did it for us. We needed those points.’”

“That shows me they know what the word ‘team’ means,” Howard said. “They made sacrifices for the team all the time. They came out today and ran hard. I could not have asked for anything more from them.”

In the girls race, Pleasant Valley came from collectively 10 points behind at the mile marker to beat Alexandria by nine for its second straight county title and third in the last four years. The two-time reigning state champion Lady Raiders haven’t lost a team race since losing to the Lady Cubs by three points in this race in 2015.

Abby Nunnelly of Alexandria won the race, but the Lady Raiders met Hood’s demand that defending race winner Trinity Roberts and Rachel Faucett go 2-3 and their first three runners came in before the Lady Cubs’ second finisher.

“We sat down at practice Tuesday and showed them the virtual meet and said there were three runners (challenging for the win) – Trinity, Rachel and Abby,” Hood said. “What we didn’t need was for one you two (Roberts or Faucett) to go chase Abby and ruin your race and go to a 4 or 5.

“I said you two need to be 2-3 – I don’t care who – just don’t go chasing Abby and blow up. That was the game plan. As long as we’re 2 and 3; don’t let a 4 or 5 get us.”


Team scores (fastest, team places)
Anniston 38 (James Haynes 17:17.05, 4-5-7-10-12)
Pleasant Valley 41 (Matisse Miller 16:55.86, 1-6-8-9-17)
White Plains 69 (Jake Moore 17:09.29, 2-11-16-18-22)
Oxford 114 (Reed Robinson 17:16.54, 3-14-25-34-38)
Ohatchee 159 (Gabe Hammonds 18:23.14, 13-15-28-46-55)
Sacred Heart 162 (James Middlebrooks 18:49.23, 19-27-29-35-52)
Alexandria 193 (Luis Rodriguez 19:24.03, 30-36-39-43-45)
Jacksonville 193 (Evan Garner 18:53.61, 20-23-40-54-56)
Faith Christian 230 (Carson Limbaugh 19:48.15, 33-42-46-47-62)
Donoho 267 (Kam Thomas 18:58.72, 21-51-61-66-68)
Individual winner: Matisse Miller, Pleasant Valley 16:55.86.

Team scores (fastest, team places)
Pleasant Valley 31 (Trinity Roberts 20:52.71, 2-3-6-8-12)
Alexandria 40 (Abby Nunnelly 19:48.41, 1-7-9-10-13)
White Plains 89 (Briar Poytress 21:08.51, 4-16-22-23-24)
Oxford 119 (Tessa Ellison 23:01.14, 15-21-26-28-29)
Ohatchee 130 (Brittany Caywood 22:29.52, 11-20-31-33-35)
Jacksonville 158 (Mary Shelton 21:32.70, 5-34-38-39-42)
Saks 210 (Ivy Houser 25:58.90, 37-41-43-44-45)
Individual winner: Abby Nunnelly, Alexandria 19:48.41

Pleasant Valley won the girls county title for the second year in a row and third time in the last four years.

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