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The girls of East Union’s cross country team are best described as a family. Working hard and pushing one another, they’re easy to spot at races, because they’re all packed together, a method that has worked well for the defending 2A state champions.
“If we run as a team, we’ll be OK,” Katie Rowan said. “We’re really good about running as a pack. We run as a family, and we push each other and try to stay together in a race.”
That pack has so far led the Lady Urchins to a third place finish at Pontotoc on Sept. 10 and a second place finish last Saturday in Saltillo. Leading the way for the team is Rowan teammate Heather Dillard, who best described last year’s state championship as an unbelievable experience.
“It was a very big deal,” she said. “This was our first championship in history, and it was like unbelievable. If you’ve seen the pictures, we were so shocked and excited. I’ve never experienced anything like it. It was a lifetime experience.”
Now with the honeymoon of the state title over, the focus has turned toward a repeat, and it is an attainable goal for the Lady Urchins, as they lost no one from last year’s squad.
“We’ve been working really hard because we want to be able to go out and defend our state title,” Rowan said. “Coach McLellen has pushed us really hard and has motivated us to be the best.”
The girls said that J.Z. George is the team to beat in 2A, but there’s also a little race on Oct. 15 that they want to defend their title at as well; the Union County Championships.
“J.Z. George is who we’ve got to beat,” Dillard said. “They’re out to get us this year, but we’re going to get them, I believe. If we work as a family and work hard together, we can do this, both in county and at state.”
“Looking for red” is something the team has worked on in practice, referring to Potts Camp and West Union, two of their rivals in the area.
“Coach McLellen tells us to look for that red and work hard, and we also use that to motivate us in practice,” Rowan said. “We’re fortunate to have such a great coach here.”
This team has already made history, winning the first girls state title for East Union, and making their mark on the athletic program and building their legacy is one of many things that motivate these girls.
“It feels good to know that we’re the ones that have to look good and make others in the future work hard,” Rowan said. “Twenty years from now, they can look back and see what we’ve accomplished and try to make it a goal to be like us and it will give them something to strive for.”