A hopeful future with first runner at XC State Championship since 2004


Erin Mercer (left) and Kayla Holder (right), first runner at XC State Championship since 2004.

Brett Zeck, Reporter

Another season of early Saturday morning meets and day-by-day training has come to a close.

The cross country team, although not performing highly among surrounding schools, has sent a runner to the girls’ 4A NCHSAA State Championship Nov. 1 for the first time since 2004.

To qualify for states, a female runner has to run a 19:15 or so at regionals if individually competing. For the boys, they need to perform in the low 16s.

“There is by far better competition at Wake Forest,” junior Kayla Holder, the lone runner representing the school, said.

Holder’s prior division at Kerr-Vance Academy, 1A, had no girls under 19 minutes for the 5k State Championship this year. The 4A division, which Wake Forest belongs to, saw 15 girls run under 19, Holder being on the cusp with a 19:03.17 and placing 17 out of 129 girls and 16 schools.

Holder believes her transition has been one for the better.

“Being here has led me to dropping 40 seconds off of my 5k time,” she said. “I much prefer the more rigid training at Wake Forest in comparison to Kerr-Vance.”

Holder took second place at the regional meet Oct. 25 with her 17:57.6, accomplishing her goal of a sub-18 5k. She attributes the achievement to the “fierce 4A competition.”

In comparison, first place at states, Green Hope’s Elly Henes, was 18:02.47. According to Holder, conditions at states were “muddy, windy and at 40 degrees,” and it was a struggle for a lot of the girls competing.

“Kayla ran well at the state meet, but definitely not to her potential,” new voluntary coach and former North Carolina State runner, Erin Mercer, said. “However, the race had awful conditions: it was rainy and the course was torn up from at least four races before Kayla’s.”

Not only was the environmental aspect of the race difficult to manage, so was the “mental game of overcoming temporary pain,” Holder said. “Knowing pain is necessary to succeed, and that it won’t truly hurt” is another obstacle of racing.

For head coach Patrick Marshall, commitment from the team is the obstacle to success.

“We have the talent to compete for conference titles, if people will make the commitment to training the way that they need to in order to improve.”

At regionals, the girls placed their highest in the conference, fourth, in the last 10 years if not longer, according to Marshall. The boys came in at seventh.

“I’m not satisfied,” he said. “I would have liked to see both teams place higher in the region. It should be our goal to make it to the state meet.”

Holder echoes Marshall’s sentiment.

“I am proud of our fourth place at regionals, but I know we have a lot to work on,” Holder said.

Mercer believes the team “holds a lot of potential.” The greatest strength cross country has, according to her, is the young people. “They want to work and they possess talent.”

Next year, cross country only loses four varsity runners out of 14, which says a lot about the top seven’s demographics for both boys and girls. A majority of the varsity team is comprised of returning sophomores or new runners.

“Hopefully next year we can be more competitive in the conference,” Mercer said. “If everyone trained really, really hard over the summer, we definitely could be in the running, but we still need that motivation and for people to believe in placing well.”