By MARINA WATERS
None of the girls on the Pioneer team who made it to state this season were even born the last time a David Crockett High School girls cross country team made it to the state championship meet.
The 2017 team, comprised of Breanna Roy, Taylor Roy, Chloe Cradic, Emmaline Hulse, Gracie Krell, Rachel Dulaney and Halle Scott, not only made it to state, but also finished in the eighth spot overall and with the fastest time in Pioneer history.
But before they set out on their trip to Middle Tennessee, the team said they weren’t quite expecting the historical season they’re now celebrating.
“As we got more and more into season I was like, ‘Okay, we’re pretty decent,’” Cradic said. “I think once we started winning every time we were like, ‘Oh, we’re going. It’s a 99.9 percent chance we’re going’ It was so exciting.”
The team won two meets this season and placed second in three others. The Lady Pioneers also placed second in the Big 11 Conference as well as the TSSAA Region 1 meet.
Not only had it been 35 years since a Crockett squad represented Jonesborough in the girls cross country state championship, but it was also the first state appearance for all of the team members, other than sisters Taylor Roy, who’s a junior, and Breanna Roy, the team’s lone senior — who might have also been the first to see the potential in her team.
“I knew that I had some fast freshmen coming in and I knew that I had some fast juniors already,” Breanna Roy said. “So I figured, ‘What are the chances? I think they’re pretty good.’ It was exciting seeing the potential building as we were going into the season.”
To get to the state championship meet, head cross country coach Mark Jennings said it took two basketball players joining the team (Hulse and Scott) to help them make it as a group.
“Athletes, you know? You look for athletes. It’s hard because people don’t want to share their athletes because they’re running when their basketball coach wants them to be shooting,” Jennings said. “That becomes really tough, but I think Taylor and Rachel and Breanna would have gone to state on their own, but we wouldn’t have gone as a team without the basketball players out there. Those girls just helped us tie it together. I mean, we couldn’t have missed any of them.
“Take any of those out of the equation and we’re hurting.”
It took each girl to form the state-qualifying team, but according to the Lady Pioneer runners, it took a group mentality to make it through the season and to their end goal.
“None of us run alone. We all have a running buddy,” Cradic explained. “If one of us is tired, we’re like, ‘Okay, let’s push them a little bit.’”
“The encouragement was key the whole year,” Breanna Roy added. “If one of us was lagging, we’d hold our hand out and say, ‘Come on! You have to high five me or else we’re gonna keep going!”
“If we hadn’t have had each other’s backs,’ Hulse said, “we wouldn’t have made it.”
The team came together, but for Jennings, the man and the team who came before Jennings’ runners blazed a Crockett cross country trail; Coach Santo Cicirello, the longest-standing cross country coach in Pioneer history led the 1982 girls cross country team to the state championship. And one of Jennings’ favorite moments this season was when he celebrated his teams’ accomplishments with Cicirello himself.
“We ran in regionals and he’s a ref with the TSSAA now,” Jennings said. “He starts the race and I told him, ‘When we got the trophy, we wanted to get a picture with you because you’re a part of this history.’ He’s the one who ran the program here. He was the coach the longest period of time here. You think of cross country and track and you think of Santo.
“He’s the reason that we’re all here today. He laid all the footwork down for us.”
Making Pioneer history wasn’t the only motivating factor, however; the team agreed that the support they saw from the community served as daily inspiration.
“We run this loop around the school and there were people in houses telling us all year that we need to ‘kick Boone’s butt’. That’s all they were saying,” Taylor Roy said. “There was an older man who gave us water as we ran so we weren’t dehydrated. He’d be out there every day with a cooler telling us that we’ve got this.”
But what might have still been the most gratifying part of the whole journey to state was the moment Pioneer Nation saw the Crockett runners off as they headed to championship meet.
“Our school community was so good,” Cradic said. “We had people cheering us on, people we’d never even talked to us came up to us and were like, ‘Wow, great job! Congratulations.’”
“The thing they had for them when they left here and had all the students out there with everyone cheering as they went off to state, that was pretty amazing,” Jennings said. “That was an amazing thing.”
Apart from watching their peers and community cheer them on, for some, the race was also about representing David Crockett.
“It feels really great to me because everyone says that sports are so bad here,” Taylor Roy said. “For us to come out and show them that it’s not and that we made it through this year as a team, it felt really good.”
What might be more exciting yet is the time the team still has together. With the exception of senior leader Breanna Roy who will be running at the University of Tennessee at Martin as a college freshman next year, the team is fairly young.
And it’s youth, along with the amount of effort put in by this team, that likely gives Jennings a lot of hope for the future of the team.
“All these girls, they were always there. They don’t miss practice,” Jennings said. “They show up, they do what you tell them to, they buy into the program.
“They put it together this year and we’re really proud of them.”