By Keeli Parkey
Three experienced runners and two new faces will represent Unicoi County High School on the cross country courses over the next few months.
Led by head coach Thad Higgins, the Blue Devil and Lady Devil runners have been preparing for the 2018 season for most of the summer.
“We have really been focusing on conditioning over running a certain time or distance,” Higgins told The Erwin Record. “Our summer workouts are designed to build a foundation for the rest of the season, while also allowing the team to get comfortable running together and encouraging each other.”
Running for the Blue Devils this season will be senior John Campbell, junior Darren Soulier and sophomore Wyatt Miller.
Campbell has been a consistent runner in his career for UCHS.
“John has stepped up as team captain this summer and has done a great job of holding the team accountable during workouts,” Higgins said. “In this role, John leads the team on group runs and even puts together unofficial practices on the days we don’t meet as a team.”
Soulier has learned from the more experienced Campbell, according to Higgins.
“Darren has really been pushing himself to grow as a runner,” the head coach said. “I really love the dynamic that has grown up between Darren and John these past couple years. I never have to worry about John’s work ethic when he’s out on runs, and likewise, I am always certain that Darren is pushing himself to stay with, or even beat, John. Darren’s real strength this season is his aptitude for growth. We really haven’t seen what Darren can do yet, and I look forward to seeing where his drive takes him.”
Miller is a newcomer to cross country, but not to competition.
“I got to know Wyatt last semester through the track team and I am happy to see him continue running this year on the cross country team,” Higgins said. “Wyatt has spent the preseason just getting used to the rigors of distance running and learning how to push himself. One strength he’s already displayed is his ability to stay positive. Even on the hottest of days or longest of runs he’s cracking jokes or trying to make his teammates laugh.”
Higgins believes this trio of Blue Devil runners has much potential.
“We have a healthy rivalry going between John and Darren,” he added. “They constantly compete to see who can work the hardest in each practice. I am excited to see how far these two can push each other. I expect them to keep pushing each other to drop their times, while also encouraging Wyatt to follow in their footsteps.”
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Junior Cheyenne Wilson and freshman Marissa Soulier will represent the Lady Devil team this season.
“Cheyenne has been on the team since her freshman year and has really impressed me with her desire to run,” Higgins said. “She absolutely loves to run and really has high expectations for herself. She never shies away from the difficult runs and is usually pushing me to give them a long run. This love for running certainly translates to races and you can really see how hard she pushes herself at each one.”
Even though Soulier is a freshman, she is no stranger to success in cross country. As part of the Unicoi County Middle School cross country program led by coach Lydia Hilliard, Soulier competed at the state meet during both her seventh and eighth grade seasons.
“Marissa has had the unique experience of competing at the middle school state championships for two years in a row,” Higgins said. “Her dedication as a runner is apparent and I’m certain her familiarity with such a high level of competition has prepared her for a successful high school career.”
Higgins believes this duo can make a push for a state meet appearance.
“Throughout this summer Marissa and Cheyenne have already done a great job of supporting and encouraging each other,” I expect to see these two experienced runners continue to push each other to get better and even qualify for the state championship.”
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The UCHS runners will compete in their first meet of the season at South Holston Dam in Bristol, Tennessee, when they compete in the Run for the Hills on Aug. 25.
An important regular season race for the teams is the Trailblazer Invitational at Daniel Boone High School, which is scheduled for Oct. 13.
“This is the course that we will compete at to qualify for the state championship, so it’s important that the athletes get a chance to familiarize themselves with the course during the regular season,” Higgins said.