Picayune cross-country is moving up

Published 10:37 am Thursday, June 20, 2019

The Picayune Memorial High School cross-country team had a busy year consisting of 10 events stretched across the season.

The majority of the events took place on Saturday mornings, with only a few meets occurring during the week.

Head Coach Chris Wise said that last season Mason Watkins proved himself to be a dominant runner capable of beating anyone he faced.

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That included the state meet in which Watkins, who had been competing for the top spot in the district all season with PRC’s Cole Benoit, came out on top.

At state, Watkins ran a 16:46.70 in the 5,000 meter race, just 6 seconds shy of the school record he set earlier in the season.

“At the course for the state championship there’s a hill that’s about a half a mile long on the way back and that’s where they separated themselves,” Wise said.

Knowing such an obstacle existed, Wise took Watkins out to the Old River Wildlife Management Area to train. Wise said that within that area is a long gravel hill, and he’d have Watkins and other runners traverse it in preparation for the state competition.

“The Department of Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks worked with us,” Wise said.

“They were helpful and were out there when we were running to make sure the kids were alright.”

Awards for solo runners, like Watkins who won at state, is just one aspect of the sport that Wise likes. Another is the relationship between runners and their competitors.

“Sportsmanship is so high. The kids are all hurting, so everybody cheers everybody on,” Wise said.

“There’s no mean nature like with other sports. There’s camaraderie, a brother in arms feel, and because of that they cheer each other on. That’s something I really appreciate.”

While cross-country does reward individual performances, Wise loves the inclusivity and diversity of his entire team.

They work together and support each other from up and coming talent like Raul Ramos and Antonio Smith, to team jokester and inspiration Ethan Crews.

They fight for each other, and Wise said he enjoys the time he gets to spend with all of them.

“Ethan Crews has been such a blessing with his attitude and work ethic, he’s made the team into a little family,” Wise said.

“It’s just such a pleasure to be around those kids. I don’t worry about their future because I know they’ll grit it out and be successful.”

However, Wise sees the total team points accrued at each meet as an area for improvement in next season.

“I don’t have that many people who are into it yet, where the level of performance is that high, but we did have a decent enough season to finish middle of the pack,” Wise said.

“That was partly because one of our runners was hurt, which hurt our score.”

The only way to improve is to keep working, and Wise says he has a special set of athletes when it comes to maintaining fitness levels.

“The self motivated type of kid is the one who will be successful,” Wise said.

“Team workouts are not enough, you have to do more outside of school. You can improve over the season, but if you don’t get some more miles in you, you won’t be successful.”

With his squad already starting its summer workouts, Wise is raising the bar for next season’s expectations.

“My goal is to move up three places at the state meet, if I can move up there we can have a more serious presence,” Wise said.

“I expect more athletes to come. If I get more people back and things come together, we can really be successful.”