By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BLUEFIELD, Va. —
A pair of Graham athletes will drive nearly 300 miles to run 3.1 miles.
It will be well worth the trip.
Sophomore Kristen Compton and senior Brandon Carroll will participate in the VHSL Group 2A State Cross Country Championships today at The Great Meadows in The Plains, Va.
“I am really excited because that was my goal the whole year to be able to go to state,” Compton said. “I am getting to do that.”
“I was hoping I would,” added Carroll. “I am pretty excited. I hope it goes well.”
In his sixth season as the cross country coach at Graham, Al MacNaughton has had one other runner — current Bluefield College soccer player Forrest Yates — reach this point in 2009.
Now he has two, Compton was expected, Carroll, maybe not as much.
“Kristen, I was pretty confident she was going to make it,” MacNaughton said. “I could tell she was in the running, the competition level is pretty good in this conference for her.
“Brandon, I wasn’t really as confident in his chances so him making it, it was really great.”
Richlands will also be represented in the girls race by Lexi Warner.
Located in Fauquier County near Manassas, Va., the Great Meadows is part steeplechase course, which is meant more for sprinters than long distance runners. Fortunately, the weather is expected to be in the high 50s with a limited chance of rain.
“If I remember the course is pretty flat and it is a place where the grass can be a little long,” MacNaughton said. “The year Forest went up there it rained and it was sucking at their feet and some kids even lost their shoes.
“The thing is we train to run hills so our strategy on hills is grinding it out, but this course is built more for speed so will have to adjust race tactics.”
Compton qualified for state competition by finishing 13th in the Group 2A West meet, and was third in the Conference 39 event. That was a vast improvement from a 46th place finish in regionals last year.
Up next for Compton — whose personal best time is 21:07 at a course in Hillsville this season — will force the talented sophomore to speed it up to reach her goal, which is a new best time, and would like to finish high enough to earn all-state recognition.
“I know that it is flat and I have to go faster than usual during the whole time because it is flat,” Compton said. “I am hoping to get 21 minutes flat, but I need to go faster than usual.
“I think it would be cool to get a good place too, but the time is more important to me.”
Since regionals ended on Nov. 6, Compton has been working on trying to maintain a proper pace to prepare for the biggest race of her young career.
“Speed workouts, we did one workout, and we do different drills such as sprinting at a certain pace you want to reach,” Compton said. “You try not to go over it or under it because you want to keep consistent about the pace.”
Meanwhile, Carroll, in just his second year of competition, finished eighth in the Conference 39 meet and 24th in the 2A West event, but was able to qualify for state as an individual after passing a pair of runners in the final 200 yards of the race.
“It is really a good opportunity to go,” said Carroll, who ran a personal best time of 18:07 this year at Galax. “I didn’t think I was going to get to go, but apparently I just made it barely in there to go...
“I guess coach is really hoping the team can go. Different things came up, different people got off and we just couldn’t make it as a team.”
MacNaughton, an avid enthusiast of the sport, has worked to assist the Graham runners in reaching the state meet.
“The coach had different workouts we would do, hills and sprints and everything like that,” said Carroll, who would prefer a course similar to what they run in this part of the state. “We have been running about 2 or 3 miles a day.
“I am not really good at flats because everybody is sprinting and I am not good at that. I am really bad at sprinting, it seems it is a lot easier to go a long ways than to just go short and fast
“I would like to qualify, be one of the winners, one of the top 10 individuals, but I probably won’t. I hope I can, I will try my best to.”
MacNaughton is hoping for a positive experience for both. This will be Carroll’s first and only state competition, while Compton could have two more visits waiting in the future.
“For Brandon, it is his senior year and his last year so for him it is just the fact that he is there,” said MacNaughton, who added that his goal for Carroll is a top 50 finish, with Compton capable of placing among the top 25 girls. “Just enjoy it and go all out and have your best race in your last race.
“For Kristen, what this is really more about is experiencing what it is like to be at a state meet. It would be great if she placed really well. How she places is not that important, but it is getting that experience of running against the best girls in the state.”
Both Compton and Carroll will run more in the spring as part of the Graham track team.
“I really enjoy running,” Compton said. “I do it through the winter too.”
Why did Carroll decide to try cross country, a sport that definitely isn’t for the faint of heart?
“It looked interesting,” he said.
As for what for he has done to be a success for the G-Men, it really comes down to a one-word answer.
“Run,” he said, with a smile.
—Contact Brian Woodson at firstname.lastname@example.org