Knowles, now a sophomore, motored around Mississippi College’s Choctaw Trails 4K course in Clinton to finish in a winning time of 16 minutes, 40 seconds.
Her then-sophomore teammate, Aimee Walker, placed second in 17:12 to give the Lady Hawks the points they needed to edge county rival West Union for the state title.
The team competition may not have been that close had Rhagen Hopper, the 2005 and 2007 state champion, competed. Instead, she opted not to run her junior year, citing “burnout.”
Knowles, who won state titles last spring on the track in the 800 and 1,600 meters, was surprised by the team’s and her cross country success.
“I like the competition and I like to win; winning state was awesome,” she said. “As a team, we hadn’t won a meet the whole year. We weren’t favored (at state).”
This season, coach Chris Greer has all three runners back in camp and making a run for the program’s seventh state championship in eight years.
The trio has also helped Myrtle win state championships on the track the last two seasons. The Lady Hawks have won five state titles since 2000.
“They’re all great kids,” Greer said. “They’ve sacrificed a lot. Aimee’s competing in five sports, Rhagen in four and Halle in three. I’m trying to talk Rhagen into running track again, which would give her five.”
Talk about busy schedules.
For instance, Walker practices basketball from 1 to 2 p.m., runs from 2 to 3, then heads to softball practice for a 21⁄2-hour workout or a game. Hopper, who joined the basketball team this season, has the same schedule.
Knowles, who will start at point guard for the Lady Hawks, doesn’t play softball, which allows her to take a break.
“You find ways to enjoy it all,” said Hopper, now a senior. “You have to be dedicated. It helps that we all push each other.”
Hopper, who took the break from cross country last season, isn’t sure if she will defend her 1A 3,200 meters state championship this spring.
“I’m not sure about running track,” she said, then smiled. “I’m going to see how everything else goes.”
Hopper and Walker, who won the 3,200 meters state title in 2007 and finished second to Hopper last season, have to juggle running track and playing fast-pitch softball during the spring. And that only comes after basketball ends, which could be late if the Hawks repeat last year’s success.
Myrtle reach the 1A state semifinals.
Actually, Walker’s day doesn’t end with athletics. At nights, she’s practicing for her part in the Union County Schools musical.
“I’m proud to be a part of all of it,” she said.
Greer has cut back on the miles his cross country athletes run in an attempt to help them avoid burnout.
“We don’t do as many miles,” he said. “A couple of years ago we were trying to beat everybody in the state. I think there’s pressure on them, pressure to win. Everybody’s trying to beat them.
“Still, we try to make it fun.”
The girls take pride in the program’s success and don’t mind the work.
“We push each other as hard as Coach Greer pushes us,” Hopper said. “We work hard for what we get.”
“I don’t know if we feel pressure to win,” added Knowles. “We just do what we do. I know it takes all of us to win.”
Contact Gene Phelps at firstname.lastname@example.org or 678-1593.