Photo courtesy of Josh Donaldson.
Homewood High School sophomore Will Stone is a candidate to emerge as a front-runner on the Patriot boys cross-country team. He finished fourth at last fall’s Class 6A state meet.
Since Lars Porter took over as head coach of the Homewood High School distance program in fall 2012, the boys cross-country team has experienced a golden age.
The Patriots have won four state championships in four years after going title-less throughout the first four decades of the school’s existence.
Despite the loss of a decorated senior class that included a trio of All-State performers, the Homewood boys will try to make it five this fall.
“At first glance, you go, ‘Man, when those guys graduate, what kind of void are we going to have?’” Porter said. “The truth is, I don’t think we’re going to have any kind of void because we’ve got another wave of young men that are interested in continuing what we’ve started. We’ve won four straight in a row, and this next group wants to push it to five, six and beyond.”
Porter said sophomore Will Stone and senior Paul Selden will likely emerge as the team’s top two runners, though he said the Patriots’ depth makes it hard to identify a clear front-runner.
Stone earned All-State honors at last fall’s Class 6A state meet with a fourth-place finish. His personal-best 5K time of 16 minutes, 21.05 seconds made him Alabama’s second-fastest freshman, regardless of classification.
“There were a lot of seniors that were there to push me and other teammates,” Stone said, “but I’m still confident in the team. There are definitely still other teammates to push. We push each other, and hopefully we’ll just be able to get better together.”
Selden placed 18th at state last fall, but had a strong outdoor track season this past spring. Porter said Pierce Jackson, Will Smith and Azariah Kipchumba should join Selden and Stone atop the team’s leaderboard.
“I think we’re going to have one of those team dynamics that leads to success,” Porter said. “If you have an off day, a teammate’s going to take your spot or carry your burden for you, and even if you have a great day, there are going to be others that are right there with you. I think we’re going to be a pack-hunting kind of team.”
That’s exactly the way Porter said he wants it. Dating back to his days as a coach at Birmingham-Southern College, Porter said he has always favored a roster steeped in depth.
“I think that your top five really get better when your six through 10 are competitive and pushing and vying for those spots,” Porter said, “when everyone feels that they can be the team leader and it’s within reach, then they work harder towards it. I think it gives a huge advantage.”
The Homewood girls cross-country team placed third at state in 2015, but Porter said an influx of talented freshmen could propel the Patriots to their first-ever team title.
Ninth-graders Lainey Phelps, Edie Smith, Celie Jackson, Zoe Nichols and Isabel Burgess will anchor a class that Porter said has the potential to become the best in school history. Four of the five have prior varsity experience, and Phelps was the 6A state runner-up as a seventh-grader in 2014.
“As I kind of dream four years down the road, I see them kind of following the path of the senior boys that just graduated,” Porter said. “They came in, took ownership of what they were doing; they prioritized it; they supported each other and achieved a great deal.”
The Homewood boys and girls cross-country teams will kick off the 2016 season at the Memphis Twilight Classic in Memphis, Tennessee, on Saturday, Sept. 3.