Coming off a successful race at the Greensboro Invitational on Sept. 28, the Cedar Ridge girl’s cross country team solidified its claim as a top-10 team in the state at the 3A level.
Coach Paul Lockwood spoke to the News of Orange County last week and stressed that he was hoping to see the girl’s squad open up with a strong time. The Red Wolves certainly did just that, as six runners finished in the top 20 of the race and the girls took home first place.
Lockwood is in his second season coaching the Red Wolves along with Bruce Smith, who is currently recovering from surgery. Lockwood previously worked as an assistant coach for 13 years: first at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, S.C., and then Apex High School in Apex, N.C.
The two coaches have faced a few challenges this season—dealing with weather issues that caused practice cancellations, and coaching two young squads.
On Sept. 5, all extracurricular activities were canceled due to the threat of inclement weather produced by Hurricane Dorian. But that wasn’t the only time that weather has disrupted practice for the Red Wolves’ cross country team. A new rule was instituted this year that permits teams from practicing in heat above 90 degrees, meaning there were several other days that Lockwood and Smith were unable to coach their runners .
As far as the relative youth on each roster, there have certainly been signs of optimism. The girl’s team has continued to prove that even with just one senior in its top seven runners, it is one of the most talented squads at the 3A level in the state. The success starts with junior Anne Morrell, who ran a 5-kilometer time of 19:48 last season, just 23 seconds off from breaking the school record.
The boy’s side has faced more growing pains this season, but Lockwood has been pleased by the fight shown from the runners. He’s also seen a breakthrough season from Zach Garus.
“He went from a kid who was in the middle of the pack and now he’s our No. 1 runner,” Lockwood said.
The Red Wolves have just five meets left in the season, with the possibility of making the state meet on Nov. 9. The rest of the schedule includes an invitational meet in Charlotte, a home dual meet against Orange High School on Tuesday, an important home meet against Northwood High and Chapel Hill High School on Oct. 15, a Big-8 Conference meet on Oct. 24 at WakeMed Park, and a regionals meet on Nov. 2.
For Lockwood, one of the goals for the girl’s team this season is defeating Chapel Hill, a perennial state powerhouse in the sport.
“It’s kind of an unsaid goal,” Lockwood said. “I think the more we talk about it, the more we start focusing on it and we’re a one-race-at-a-time deal.”
He also wants to see the girl’s squad become a top-five team in the state, a goal that looks more attainable by the day as the Red Wolves continues to compete at a high level.
He would like to see the boy’s team qualify for the last spot in the regional meet, with a chance at making the state meet in November.
“We kind of told the boys that, ‘On paper, it doesn’t look good, but we want you to prove us wrong,’” Lockwood said. “And so far they’ve been doing that. At Friday Night Lights in Kernersville, they were in the championship race and I think they responded pretty well as individuals, but we want to compete as a team.”
Although the Red Wolves have certainly made Lockwood and Smith proud on the course, it’s their efforts off the course that have stood out to their coaches and emphasized the bond that brings the teams together.
“They’re super smart kids and I think them being fantastic in the classroom rolls over into athletics, cross country,” Lockwood said. “They would literally give each other the shirt off their back if they needed to. It’s impressive to see a lot of these kids, they’re doing it this young.”