By GENE PHELPS / NEMS Daily Journal
CLINTON – Savannah Shirley’s only a seventh grader, but she has become an expert when it comes to the importance of time in cross country running.
“We lost the district meet to Myrtle by something like an eighth of a second,” said West Union’s rookie distance runner. “We knew we had to run faster today.”
Shirley and the Lady Eagles ran fast enough Saturday to end Myrtle’s quest for a fourth straight state title, beating the Lady Hawks by two points – 47 to 49 – in the MHSAA Class 1A Cross Country Championships at Mississippi College’s Choctaw Trails.
Shirley finished third overall on the 4K course in 16 minutes, 59 seconds to pace West Union to it first cross country state title.
“We’re excited,” West Union coach Hugh Yates said. “These girls worked hard this week. They knew they had to run better times. They earned it.”
Shirley is one of four seventh graders and two eighth graders who ran for the Eagles. The lone senior was Allie Newby, who finished 17th.
“This is awesome,” Newby said. “These seventh and eighth graders made it happen. I’m so proud of them.”
Myrtle’s boys won the 1A state title behind the 17:54 5K clocking by senior Bryan Cook.
“I knew this was my last time to race here,” said Cook, who led from start to finish. “I wanted to do my best for the team.”
• Saltillo’s Alyssa Kelley, a sophomore, needed help to stand up after leading the Lady Tigers to their third consecutive state championship.
Kelley won her first individual state title with a 15:54 clocking in a come-from-behind win.
“This was worth it,” she said, stopping to take a drink of bottled water. “I wanted to win as a team more than as an individual.”
Last year’s state champion, Saltillo teammate Lealand Flanagan, finished seventh.
• Pontotoc continued its reign in the sport by capturing its 29th and 30th state championships under the direction of coach Mike Bain.
Katy McAuley’s third-place finish of 16:06 paced the Lady Warriors, who won by 17 points over Lafayette.
Pontotoc’s boys won by 49 points behind Luke Hatcher’s second-place finish of 17:00.
“I was a little anxious today,” said Bain, who started Pontotoc’s program in 1978. “I didn’t know anything about the teams from the south.
“I told our kids to do what you’ve done all season and everything will work out.”
• Corinth’s Brian Mcdonnieal won in 16:59 to lead the Warriors to their fifth state championship.
• East Union got top 12 finishes by Katie Rowan, Heather Dillard, Hannah Courtney, Haleigh Snyder and Denira Shauver to win the program’s first state title.