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Maroon Tide cross country is ready for regionals

Picayune’s cross country team has been busy the month of October as the runners prepared for the regional and state races.

On Oct. 5 the squad took part in the Country Day Cajun Classic in New Orleans, and senior Mason Watkins won the race outright against stiff competition.

Following a week of practice, the team then took part in the Piney Woods Trail Run at the Crosby Arboretum, and Head Coach Chris Wise said his athletes enjoyed the scenic course.

Four days later came the Columbia Invitational, which Watkins again won as he’s gotten up to the speed that led to him winning state last year.

Once the invitational was complete, the team’s attention turned to the regional race, which will take Thursday, Oct. 24. Over the weekend Wise took his athletes out to the Pearl River Wildlife Management Area to put them through a grueling workout, which prepared the runners for the regional race.

The athletes have been working all year to improve their times, and Wise said he’s making sure they understand how important the races are at this point in the season.

“All the hard work and hills they ran is all for naught if they don’t come to race. We train like no one else because we expect you to run like nobody else,” Wise said.

The mental aspect of endurance sports like cross country is equally important to having the physical stamina to compete.

Wise said overcoming the hard workouts and tough races gives the runners’ confidence heading into regionals. “They have in the back of their mind that they can handle this. They can handle whatever life throws at them because they’ve endured, and earned the right to be on this team,” Wise said.

The practices have changed slightly as the season has begun to wind down.

Important races like regionals and state dictate the change because Wise doesn’t want any of his athletes to get injured during this stretch of the season.

“We dial it back this time of the year. At this point you have to maintain and try not to get an injury,” Wise said.

The runners have become used to running a different course each week, an expectation that doesn’t carry over to other sports where the environment of competition will be the same each time.

Wise said his runners have learned how to adapt to each course and use their experience to race up to their potential.

“Some kids excel at one course and not on another. The terrain, the heat, it’s challenging for different reasons. You can’t control everything coming at you,” Wise said.

The runners will need to use all of their experience as they prepare to face the fastest runners in southern Mississippi.

It’ll be time to get down to business when the runners approach the starting line, and Wise said he expects his runners to compete with the best of them while placing in the top three at regionals.

“This is a race, not just a 5k, this is a competitive sport. Focus, turn loose of all your inhibitions and run,” Wise said.