By DANNY P. SMITH
The Starkville Yellowjackets did it as a team.
In claiming first place at their own hosted Starkville High School Invitational on Saturday, the members of the SHS boys cross country team made it a group effort at Mississippi State's Jimmy Taylor Cross Country Course.
The Jackets collected 42 points to edge second place Tupelo, which totaled 44 points.
Starkville's score was boosted by the fact that Joseph MacGown, Kamau Bostic and Damian Grady came in fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively. Ethan Musser, Stuart Woomer and Aaron Remotigue also finished in the top 20.
When asked what he thought the difference was, MacGown summed it up pretty simply.
"Our team ran pretty well today," MacGown said.
Starkville cross country coach Caroline Woomer said they pulled back on work with the boys this week in preparation for the meet and it seemed to contribute to the strong showing.
"We worked them hard during the week, but not as hard as we usually work them," Woomer said. "We took a day off on Thursday and they ran on their own. On Friday we had an easy run because we thought we had pushed their bodies pretty far and they could use a break. I think it showed that break really helped them."
MacGown could tell the difference in how the Jackets prepared for the latest meet than others during the season.
"We wanted to do better at this meet because we were hosting it and we wanted to do better at the state so we started to hold back at practice," MacGown said. "Before a lot of the meets, we would keep on training and have hard workouts even two days before it and the meet we'd go to would still be considered part of the workouts."
According to SHS assistant coach Chris Barnett, it's the hard work the boys have put in all season was the reason for success.
"Words can't express how happy I am for these guys," Barnett said. "Where they are now is because of hard work. I tell them everyday that you've got to win practice and we're doing that. We're starting to see the results from that."
For the Lady Jackets, they may have placed second overall as a team, but had the top individual finisher when Kate Mattox came up with a time of 15:06.25.
Mattox had put so much into the race that she was "numb" following. She pointed to her faith that brought her through.
"It was very hard, but God gave me all the strength," Mattox said. "He helped me through the race. It was the hardest race I've ever run in my life. I wanted to do it for my mom because it was her birthday."
Tupelo was first on the girl's side with a team total of 40 points, while Starkville was next with 62 points.
The Lady Jackets had two more top 10 finishers individually as Walker Mattox was seventh with a time of 16:10.57 and Abigail Arinder was ninth with a mark of 16:17.33. Shanika Musser earned a top 20 at 19th with a time of 17:10.88.
Woomer said some of the girls had cut 30 to 40 seconds off their times and Kate Mattox was proud of the team's effort.
"We all tried our very best and that's what counts," Kate Mattox said.
There were 448 runners that had signed up for the SHS Invitational, but one team failed to show that had five runners so there was a final number of 443 participants on a sunny day that started out a little on the cool side.
"It was a perfect day," Woomer said.