By DANNY P. SMITH
Starkville High School assistant cross country coach Chris Barnett has told the members of the team how special they are.
Today, the Yellowjackets have a chance to do something really special.
The SHS runners will be participating at the Mississippi High School Association Class 5A State Championship meet at Choctaw Trails in Clinton and could win overall team titles as well as individual crowns.
The Lady Jackets can win an overall championship for the first time ever, while a girl can capture an individual title for the second time. The boys can get its third-ever team championship and first since 1996 and an individual bring home state for the first time ever.
"We should have our best performance since I've been coaching," Starkville head cross country coach Caroline Woomer. "If they will run like they've been running and do everything right, we're contending with a couple of other schools to win."
In the history of cross country, Julia Cathcart has been the only Lady Jacket to win a girls individual state titles in 1997, 2000 and 2001. The Starkville boys won team titles in 1994 (Class 4A) and 1996 in (Class 5A).
The Jackets have an opportunity to have an individual state champion with runners like Joseph MacGown, Kamau Bostic and Damian Grady, who finished fourth, fifth and sixth at the Starkville Invitational two weeks ago. Their efforts, along with Ethan Musser, Stuart Woomer and Aaron Remotigue who also finished in the top 20, helped the SHS boys win that event.
Kate Mattox ran a time of 15:06.25 for the Lady Jackets to win the girls individual race at the SHS Invitational and can be the first state-title holder since Cathcart. Walker Mattox, Abigail Arinder, Shanika Musser and others are looking to help the Lady Jackets.
Woomer said the coaches have pulled back on preparation so the runners can have fresh legs going into the state meet, but knows they are taking the situation seriously.
"We always push them really hard and then we start pulling back right before state meet because we want them to peak so our goal is this will be the meet where they peak," Woomer said. "They are all running strong and are very excited. They are checking stats and races daily to see how everybody is doing."
The girls race begins at 1 p.m., then the boys take off at 1:30 p.m.