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Cross country sets high goals for season

At Hartselle High School, the goal of any athletic team is to make it to state.

Kenny Lopez’s expectations aren’t any different even for cross country.

The Tigers have missed making state the last two years, but Lopez is hoping year three of his tenure will be different.

“We’ve haven’t gone to state as a team while I’ve been here,” Lopez said. “It’s a difficult goal because we’re in such a competitive section, but I think it’s something we can accomplish.”

The Tigers will find out just how much of a possibility that will be when they compete in its second event at the Chickasaw Trails meet in Oakville at the Jesse Owens Park and Museum this Saturday. They finished fifth in girls and sixth in boys during their first meet at Moulton.

The schedule also features a favorite of his athletes – the Randolph Classic on Sept. 18. The course takes the runners through a creek, which is a highlight of his team’s season.

“I don’t particularly like that course too much, but the kids just love it,” Lopez said. “I almost didn’t put it on the schedule, but the kids asked me to put it back on the schedule. They have a blast, getting a wet and muddy.”

While goals of making state and winning the Morgan County Championship are the team’s top goals each year, Lopez knows the key to those goals lies in the third goal – getting better every week.

“If we can just get better every time we compete and every day at practice, then everything else will take care of itself,” Lopez.

And Hartselle has a challenging schedule. They will travel to Pensacola, Fla., for the Gulf Coast Stampeded on Sept. 22 followed by the Bob Jones Invitational in Madison on Sept. 29. They will make a return visit to Oakville for the Jesse Owens Classic and then travel to Cullman on Oct. 13. The final tune-up for the Sectionals is the Northwest Alabama Championships at Oakville.

The section meet includes a trip to Florence to compete against the likes of Athens, Cullman, Lawrence County, Brewer, Muscle Shoals and East Limestone.

Hartselle has 40 athletes on its cross country team this year – 17 boys and 23 girls. Of the 17 boys, the seven seniors are Nicholas Heaven, Shannon Kirby, David Mach, Ryan Nowka, Chad Wallwork, Matt Watson and Alex Wilt.

The four senior girls are Bailey Adams, Lindsey Elmore, Kayla Norwood and Sarah Walker.

Some of the top returning athletes are Johnathan Duncan for the boys and Taylor Barnett for the girls, both were the top finishers at state last year.

Lopez said he enjoys cross country personally and hopes his athletes will continue to run long after high school.

“It’s just a great sport for life,” Lopez said. “It’s something that you can do for the rest of your life and it’s a lot of fun.”

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