By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Quinn Jeffords is a student on the move ... but he may have finally found a stopping point.
Except for when he’s running as part of the Bluefield College cross country team.
“It has been pretty good, I am having fun and keeping in good shape and I like the camaraderie between players and coaches,” said Jeffords, a senior from Covington, Ga. “I enjoy getting to the finish line and finishing strong, that is a big goal.”
The cross country teams from Bluefield and Bluefield State participated in the second annual “Battle of the Bluefields” meet on Tuesday at Bluefield City Park.
“They compete against each other and most of them are friends so this makes it fun for them,” Bluefield State coach Vonda Wilson said.
Bluefield freshman Lochlan Kitchen won the men’s race with a time of 16:54, followed by teammate Brad Schmitt (17:30) and Bluefield State’s Jacob Carey (17:52). Kara Georgiades of Bluefield won the women’s competition, crossing the finish line in 20:16. Lydia Freeman of Bluefield was second (21:28), followed by Trish Galligher (21:32) of Bluefield State.
The season is winding down for both teams. Bluefield State will finish up Saturday in the WVIAC Championships at Seton Hill in Greensburg, Pa., while Bluefield will run once more on Nov. 3 in the Mid-South Conference meet at Rio Grande in Ohio.
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While many of the competitors are involved in other sports, it’s doubtful they have been involved in three sports at three different schools.
Jeffords has, a feat that even impresses Bluefield College cross country coach Keith Jennings, a former basketball All-American at East Tennessee State and a three-year veteran in the NBA.
“That is a guy that wants to compete and it really doesn’t matter the sport, he just wants a chance to see if he is better than you,” Jennings said. “I like working with kids like that, kids that are motivated to become something and it is easy to coach those kids. He has been easy to coach.”
A five-sport participant at Covenant Christian Academy in Logansville, Ga., Jeffords started his collegiate career as a starting punter and wide receiver at Trinity Bible College in Ellendale, N.D.
He also played basketball, baseball, cross country and track at the prep level.
“It was either go to a community college and work on my academics or getting a chance to play football out there and it was a chance to travel,” said Jeffords, who has now attended five colleges. “I had never been to that part of the country before so I kind of wanted to do that...
“I just love playing sports, and one thing about playing in college, I am the only person from my high school to go on and play multiple sports in college.”
He spent one year there and then moved back to Georgia to attend Georgia Perimeter College, a community college in Covington.
“Some of the colleges I didn’t really like their academics and they didn’t have a lot to offer,” Jeffords said. “In North Dakota it was really cold and I didn’t really like that and they didn’t have a lot to offer academically and I just kept progressing from there.”
He didn’t stay home for long. Up next was Mid-Atlantic Christian University in Elizabeth City, N.C., this time as a basketball player.
“I played some, I broke my finger and I was out for the rest of the season,” the 6-foot-1 Jeffords said. “I played there during the beginning of the season.”
One year was enough there, as Jeffords returned to Georgia, taking a mini-semester last spring at Georgia Military College in Madison. He took courses at Georgia Perimeter last summer and then wound up at Bluefield in the fall.
“My dad likes Virginia schools and he kind of wanted me to go here,” said Jeffords, who is studying General Studies and hopes to become a teacher.
The 6-foot-1 Jeffords chose cross country this time, joining a program in just its fifth year of existence.
“We have done pretty well, we have improved upon last year from what they have told me...,” he said. “It is definitely a lot of hard work and determination and just practice.
“You can run by yourself, and it helps your attitude. It is sort of a mental thing.”
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What he has found at Bluefield is a talented collection of runners, who have had success for the first time in Jennings’ three years at the helm.
“We finally got our first trophy this year at the Pikeville Invitational, my girls finished second, that was very good,” Jennings said. “My best female runner is Kara Georgiades, and she has had a top 10 finish for us this year, which has been very good, we didn’t have that at all last year.
“(Lochlan) is our top guys’ runner. He has also had a top 10 finish for us this year. He is just a freshman so we have got him for a nice little time after that. We are getting better as the season goes along.”
Wilson has also seen improvement from the Blues, and expects the team to get even better in the future.
“It has been a little better this year than it was last year,” said Wilson, whose top runners are Galligher and male competitor Kharles Mwalo. “I am trying to get out more and recruit this year, next year I am trying to bring in guys that are strictly runners, I am working on it.”
An active long-distance runner as well, Wilson understands what it takes to be involved in a largely underpublicized sport like cross country.
“It does help a little bit, running is one of those things you can’t make somebody like it,” Wilson said. “My parents always said ‘Vonda, you need to motivate them’ but you can’t motivate somebody to run.
“They have to want to run and that makes the opposition a little bit difficult, a lot of it is the attitude. I will have a stronger team next year, I am trying to recruit some local kids.”
Despite being an accomplished athlete in basketball, Jennings has plenty of respect for the competitors in cross country.
“I jogged a lot, but never cross country, it is a little different,” Jennings said. “This is a different animal, I respect Coach Wilson and the guys that have really ran and understand it because it is a tough one...
“It is a challenge, but I am getting used to it. It is my third year doing it so I am starting to understand how to make them run and the things they need to do to get better at their times so it has been enjoyable this year.”
While a coach can only do so much for a runner, Jennings tries to encourage his athletes to simply get better each day.
“One of the main focuses I have is competing with yourself. Bluefield is not known for cross country yet so I just want them to start having some pride in it and beat their times,” Jennings said. “My challenge is I want them to beat their time every time we run and then that will start adding up.
“We have ran a little bit better so it is just a challenge of it now and hopefully we have got some good kids ready to come in next year to help start to build this program up.”
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Jeffords isn’t sure yet if he will be run again next season, but Jennings sure hopes he does, having seen how the competition — no matter what the sport and which school — drives him to succeed.
“He has improved. Quinn has gotten better with his times every time he has stepped out there,” Jennings said. “I think the first meet was the adjustment and now he knows what he has got to expect and then after that you start to compete and that is what he has been doing.
“I am very pleased with this effort, I already know because I think now he really knows what to expect, and great kid too, a super nice kid. He comes to practice and he works hard every day.”
Cross country isn’t easy. There is lots of running and training, working on developing strength, stamina and endurance, all of which is fine with Jeffords.
Perhaps Jeffords has found the sport — and school — for him.
“I just like to be in good shape, stay in good shape and I like to run,” said Jeffords, who plans to stay at Bluefield and graduate in the winter of 2013. “It is kind of fun to be part of that and meeting new people.”
—Contact Brian Woodson