Family affair

Published 12:20 am Friday, September 9, 2011

NATCHEZ — It’s a good way to host an extended family of sorts, in Natchez High School cross country coach Larry Wesley’s words.

NHS hosted Cathedral, West Lincoln, North Pike, Brookhaven and Saint Aloysius in its annual cross country meet Thursday afternoon, with many athletes and fans present.

Which is exactly what Wesley was shooting for, he said.

ERIC SHELTON | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Cathedral’s Kimble Devening competes in the cross country meet at Natchez High School Thursday afternoon.

“It’s really a family connect, that’s what I like to call it,” Wesley said. “It’s good to have all those kids come support the Natchez High School program, and we try to make this bigger and better whenever me and all the coaches (from the other schools) get together to plan it.

“That’s why they keep coming.”

Varsity girls squads from each team competed in a 2-mile run that started on the school’s track, continued on the Natchez Trace and ended back at the track. The varsity boys’ competition was 3 miles long.

“We’re at home, it’s a chance to practice at our facility, we have our fans, parents… all the good stuff,” Wesley said. “It’s pretty much our trace. We practice on the trace regularly.”

With his girls squad only having one senior, Wesley said two freshmen are setting a good foundation for this year and the next few.

“Kendra Davis and Shanika Purnell, they’re setting a good standard while they’re young,” Wesley said. “They’ve been doing that since seventh and eighth grade.

“Kendra missed the state final in seventh grade by one person, but she made the final in eighth grade and finished fourth overall.”

In addition to the cross country team, the NHS girls basketball team is competing with the cross country team in preparation for its season. Head coach Sue Johnson said participating in cross country helps with conditioning.

“Heart, endurance, will power, you name it,” Johnson said. “These are needed in both sports.”

Johnson also said her girls have a lot of catching up to do compared to the regular cross country team.

“They’re not where they need to be,” Johnson said. “We didn’t train much (in August) because we were in the gym doing drills and working on agility and strength training.

“When September broke, we started letting them come out here. They’ll do all the home meets and practice with them, but they won’t travel. They’ll do that until basketball starts. It helps with training, since we can’t get them after school right now.”

First-year Cathedral cross country coach Tommy Smith said he’s been impressed with the squad he’s inherited, especially the girls.

“Our guys are experiencing a few injuries,” Smith said. “Two of our better runners are out, Nolan Vaughn and Dylan Sandidge. The girls are doing really well.”

It helps to have such a nice pool of athletes to choose from, Smith said.

“We have a good bunch,” he said. “They’re softball players, basketball players, and being a 1A school, you have to share them. It’s tough sometimes, but we have some really good talent and a ton of potential.

“They compete with 5A and 6A schools as if they were the same size.”

With the smaller squad, however, depth is always going to be an issue for Cathedral, Smith said.

“We have about 32, boys and girls included, and amazingly that’s about 10 percent of the student population grades seven through 12,” Smith said.

The workout routine Smith is implementing is tough, he admitted, but he said he’s been pleased with how his athletes have responded.

“I’m an ex-cross country runner, so I’m a little harder on them than I think they were used to,” Smith said. “They really seem to be bearing down and doing the work.”