By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
Lynn Holland loves running. Period. So it came as no surprise four years ago when the 51-year-old CPA offered to coach Tupelo Christian Prep’s fledgling cross country/track program.
“I’ve run all my life,” Holland said. “I enjoyed the time our daughters ran at (Tupelo High). I thought, ‘I’d like to do this.”’
Holland’s interest in coaching grew even more when TCPS joined the Mississippi High School Activities Association.
Greg Warnick was already the Eagles’ coach, but Holland was brought on board as an assistant. The next season, he became the head coach when Warnick left.
Under Holland’s leadership, the TCPS cross country program produced two of its best finishes last season at the MHSAA 1A state meet at Mississippi College’s Choctaw Trails in Clinton. The girls were fifth, their best-ever finish, while the boys were sixth overall, their second-highest finish.
“We’ve had a scoring team every year,” Holland said. “We’ve got a good group this year. The potential is there to have a great season.”
On the boys side, Zach Pitts returns after a 10th-place finish last season at state. He was also third overall on the track in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters last spring.
“This year we’re looking to do even better,” Pitts said. “We could have a top three finish. We might have a chance to win state.”
Pitts is joined by B.J. Simmons, who competed as a seventh grader at state last season; Evan Talton, Kevin McCully, Emory Mullins, newcomer James Stephenson and transfer Cade Luedtke.
“We’ve got a chance to do well at state if we stay healthy and our younger guys step up,” Holland said.
Top finishers back
On the girls team, two of the Lady Eagles top finishers at state – Alli Maloney and Emma Woolhouse – are back. They will be joined by former Tupelo High runner Haley Page and newcomer Mary Cockrell, who is on the swim team and recently ran a half marathon.
“Our girls could finish as high as fifth again … they might move up,” Holland said.
Northeast Mississippi’s reputation as a cross country hotbed – NEMiss teams won seven of 12 state titles last season – excites Holland.
“In Mississippi, this is the place to be,” he said. “You can run locally and run against the best. The competition is that good here.
“We’ve got gritty athletes; they just race hard. It’s important and it’s serious to them.”