By David Wheeler/Special to the NEMS Daily Journal
The state cross country meet is two months away, but September is still a good time for a team to begin putting its strategy together.
Such is the case for the four-time defending state champion Saltillo Lady Tigers, who get to work on their game plan at home Saturday, hosting the Saltillo Invitational.
“We’re looking for at least 33 schools, including a lot of local schools,” Saltillo head coach Charles Covington said. “With the schools that we think are coming, that should be about 1,200 runners.”
The meet will be on the Saltillo school campus, beginning at 9 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. with junior high races.
Varsity girls race at 10 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., followed by varsity boys at 11 and 11:30 a.m.
“I think September meets mean more to the runners than to the coaches,” Covington said. “You’re hopefully seeing improvement, and possibly some race strategy coming together.
“The state meet is still eight weeks away, and that’s a long way.”
Covington sees improvement from the Saltillo girls squad, the defending Class 5A champions.
“I think we are stronger than the last couple of years,” he said. “But Oxford is a good team, and Starkville and Pearl are teams to watch.
“But we plan to be stronger by the end of the season. And, like most teams, we hope to peak at the end of the season.”
In early meets this season, Saltillo has been led by seniors Alyssa Kelly and Claire Cash, with strong showings by Courtney Patton, Hannah Covington, and Taylor McNinch.
The Saltillo boys are also one of the early favorites to contend for the 5A title, along with the usual suspects of defending champion Oxford, Starkville, and Pearl.
“This seems like a strong team,” Covington said. “I’m encouraged about this team.”
Adams Grubbs is the lone senior in the top runners of this year’s squad. Also contributing at this point are sophomores Ben Bast and Lance Crabtree, and freshmen Ken Gassaway and Sam Cash.
Saltillo has won a total of 11 state titles over the years; eight girls and three boys.