By David Wheeler/NEMS Daily Journal
The State Cross Country Meet is scheduled for Saturday at Mississippi College’s Choctaw Trails in Clinton.
Northeast Mississippi will again be sending its share of favorites to the event, which became an officially sanctioned sport by the MHSAA in 1978.
Pontotoc head coach Mike Bain has coached in each year of the State Meet, and has 30 state titles between his boys and girls squads, ranking him as one of the winningest coaches in the state in any sport. And the runners Bain will field for this year’s meet are two of the favorites in Class 4A.
The Pontotoc girls are ranked No. 1 in the state this season on “mstrackxc.com” and have won two straight 4A titles.
“The girls have been running really well all year,” Bain said. “As much as you can keep up with it, we’ve pretty much been running with anybody in the state.
“I’m looking for them to have a really good state meet.”
Pontotoc has had three different No. 1 runners during the season, with 8th grader Locke Hester recording the sixth best 4K time in the state with at 15 minutes, 34 seconds.
The Pontotoc boys efforts have them at No. 5 in the state as they try to win a third straight championship. Pontotoc fields a senior-dominated squad, led by Luke Hatcher.
“Best I can tell, we’ll have a battle with St. Stanislaus,” said Bain of the No. 6 ranked opponent.
Corinth, the defending 3A boys champion, is ranked No. 3 in 4A this season; and the Corinth girls are No. 2 in 4A.
Oxford, Saltillo, Starkville, and Pearl all have strong teams in boys and girls, potentially making 5A the most competitive events at the state meet.
The Saltillo girls have won three straight titles, but rank behind Pearl this season, with Starkville No. 3. Saltillo could be hampered in its effort because of knee injury to top runner, junior Claire Cash
“I think there are four teams that could be within 10 points of each other in the girls,” Saltillo coach Charles Covington said. “If Claire can run well, we can compete.”
Starkville 8th grader Kate Maddox has posted the second best time in the state in the 4K at 15:06.
In 5A boys, Starkville has the current leg up in the rankings at No. 3 in the state, with Pearl the three-time defending champion. Starkville has two of the top 10 runners in the state with Kamau Bostic No. 4 and Joseph MacGown No. 7.
The Tupelo girls are going for an impressive 11-straight state titles, led by the state’s No. 3-ranked runner in freshman Christian Daniels. And while Tupelo is No. 2 in the rankings, Madison Central is No. 3, and should provide a difficult challenge.
Andrew White has been tops in Mississippi this season in the 5K at 16:12, and could help No. 1 Tupelo to a 10th title in 11 seasons. But standing at No. 2 in the ranking is Ocean Springs, with defending champion Clinton at No. 7.
The St. Patrick girls appear a favorite in 3A, ranked No. 4 in the state. St. Andrew’s is the highest ranked 3A boys at No. 8, with Kossuth solid at No. 17.
The 2A girls event appears to come down to a battle with defending champ East Union and Madison St. Joseph, with New Site posting solid times as well. Based on the overall rankings, the J.Z. George boys have posted the times that make a second straight title likely.
The French Camp boys have been clocking solid times during the season, making them a favorite over two-time champion Myrtle in 1A. In girls, Myrtle has the season edge over defending champion West Union, with Natchez Cathedral in the mix.