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NHS cross country girls hope to remain undefeated at district meet

Natchez High School sophomores Shankia Pernell, left, and Kenya Davis run along the Natchez Trace Monday afternoon during the cross country team’s workout. The boy’s and girl’s teams will be competing in district championship today at Mississippi College in Clinton. (Lauren Wood \ The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — So far, the Natchez High School girls cross country team has won every meet in which it has participated.

But with the MHSAA Region 3-6A meet at Mississippi College in Clinton today, the Lady Bulldogs will face their toughest challenge yet.

Sophomore Shanika Pernell said she and her teammates are looking to continue the streak, but the competition will be stiff.

“Hopefully since we’ve won all of our other ones, we’ll win this one,” Pernell said.

Pernell singled out Oak Grove High School as the team that will likely give NHS its toughest competition.

“They work out five to 10 times harder than we do,” Pernell said. “We just have to run 3 miles or 2 miles each day in order to beat them.”

Theodore Johnson runs the final stretch of Monday’s workout. (Lauren Wood \ The Natchez Democrat)

The girls will compete in a 2.5K run, while the boys will do the 5K run, head coach Larry Wesley said. Times for the top five finishers of each team will be added up, and the lowest overall time will determine the winner.

“I hate to over-talk myself, but I look for our girls to have a strong showing,” Wesley said. “If all of them focus, we should do well.”

Pernell said she and the other girls have been preparing themselves to get better so they can put Natchez on the map when it comes to cross country and track. She also said cross country complements track, which begins after cross country ends.

“(Cross country) helps my speed, and it helps prepare me for the mile run and the 800-meter run,” Pernell said.

Pernell has set a personal goal of finishing No. 1 overall at the state meet in November. Because of that, she said she’s personally taken on the advice of running 2 miles and 3 miles, respectively, on alternate days.

“It helps build up my breathing and my speed, and my time is getting better,” she said. “When I breathe in, I run longer. When I exhale, I slow down.”

Though he has high expectations for his girls, Wesley said his boys were still a work in progress, especially since a lot of them aren’t able to compete with the team.

“I just hope they’re competitive,” Wesley said of his boys. “We haven’t had the practices we want. Most of the athletes we normally have out there are doing football right now.”

But senior Theodore Johnson III said he’s confident he and his teammates can do well today. Like Pernell, Johnson said cross country helps prepare him for track.

“I just want to place in the top 10 and build up my stamina for track and field,” Johnson said.

Wesley spoke highly of Johnson, who has been competing in cross country and track ever since Johnson was in middle school.

“He’s been with us since the seventh grade, and I don’t think I’ll get another one like him, because we don’t have a seventh-grader out here right now,” Wesley joked.

Johnson said Wesley was a tough coach, but he likes the fact that Wesley tries to get to know his athletes personally.

“He’s something like a father figure,” Johnson said. “He just wants to see you improve.”