On Pace for Greatness By: Damon Wright
One of the key components to a consistently successful program comes down to a little thing called attention to detail. Attention to detail, a frequent saying expressed by the Mississippi College head strength and conditioning Coach Michael Shumaker, is the constant notice and appreciation of the little things that make an entire unit function. The Mississippi College cross country lives by this saying, and it is shown not only through their performance on the trails, but also through the care taken by the team and especially by head coach Butch Ard.
Head Coach Butch Ard is entering his 14th season, and he still tends to the cross-country trails nearly every day. Coach Ard recently had surgery on his shoulder, and he is still out in the heat giving great care to the Choctaw Trails and has earned the respect of the team and seniors such as Jordan Pritchard: “Without Coach Ard Choctaw Trails would be in shambles. He does a phenomenal job maintaining the course everyday so we can use it for practice or if there is a meet that week.” Pritchard, a senior from Painesville, Ohio and a member of the 2017 GSC all conference second team, has seen major improvements in the program from the time when he transferred from Lake Erie College.
Pritchard has seen improvements not only on the trails, but in the hearts of every Choctaw on the team: “My favorite part is seeing how much our team has grown. We have improved so much athletically overtime, but also a lot of us have transformed our spiritual lives as well.” Pritchard has had a stellar career here at Mississippi College and looks to leave a legacy that will last a lifetime: “I hope to leave a legacy that will be remembered as being part of the first team in MC’s cross-country history to qualify for nationals,” said Pritchard.
Coach Ard has taken notice of not only the upperclassmen on both the men’s and women’s side, but also the newcomers to Mississippi College: “Something that stands out to me about the teams is the teamwork aspect; they all work together, they are great as a team. It’s not just the upperclassmen, but the freshmen as well. They have come in with an attitude that they want to do something big, and they are working really hard to make that happen.” Ard explained that freshmen runners Evan Del Rio and Gabe Poulin have already made an impact for the Choctaws on the men’s side, and Ard is still looking for some of the freshmen women to separate themselves from the pack.
Though this flock of newcomers has brought a new, youthful and inspiring feeling to the team, Ard still leans on his veterans for leadership and guidance: “Will Young, Sam Darnall, and Alex Gibson have taken the experience the past three years and are working well with these freshmen and guiding them in the right direction … they have done very well because you always want your upperclassmen to be able to do that … these guys have done an excellent job of bringing the freshmen along and teaching them the things that they are going to need to know to go a longer distance and get better in college competition; they have done a great job,” Ard said.
Pritchard also harkens back to the positive impact that the seniors have had on the team, specifically Will Young and Sam Darnall: “Will Young has played a huge role in being a leader to such a young team; he is filled with so much knowledge, and he’s great to go to for advice. Sam Darnall is equally as important; he is great at keeping us on track during workouts and is a great motivational leader.”
On the women’s side of the team, it is basically an entirely new group of girls attacking the trails. The Choctaws only have three returning runners from the 2017 season, but that does not mean the Choctaws will falter from their consistent success. Sophomore runner Alexis Dunn, who was the top finisher for the Lady Choctaws at the MC Season Opener, recognizes that each runner on the team brings their own skill set that works for the strengths of the team: “I think each runner has brought something special to our team this year. Since we have a small team, we really focus on taking advantage of each and every one’s strong characteristics and using it to preform our best at meets. Kimber Watson and Rachel Faulk have taken a great initiative in their training and racing, as we have only have three returning runners this year, and so we are very grateful for that,” said Dunn.
Dunn and the Lady Choctaws is also excited to compete once again at the Rhodes Invitational this coming up weekend: “The team is feeling great going into this meet! It’s our first time traveling this year, and so that is always a fun experience, but not only that, we have had 4.5 solid, hard weeks of training, and so we are ready to bring our A-game,” Dunn said.
Though the team will change each year, and bonds will both end and be created, Dunn is looking forward to experiencing the growth of the program and the team in the coming years: “In the next couple of years, I am really looking forward to growing the team and having those experienced runners. I think as we mature, we will be able to take a different approach in training and racing, and so I think that will be a big change,” said Dunn.
Both the men’s and women’s teams will be traveling to Memphis, Tennessee, to compete in the Rhodes Invitational on Saturday, September 15th, 2018. Both teams are excited for this meet, and they are looking forward to putting their talents on display on the trails in Memphis.