The last time a Cleburne runner was on the course at the girl’s state cross country meet was in 2005.
Fast forward to 2018 and two Lady Jackets who will be running at Saturday’s 5A race in Round Rock. Juniors Maggie Marshall and Caitlyn Cron qualified for the final three mile run of the UIL cross country season with their top finishes at the Region 2 meet.
Marshall shaved 60 seconds off her silver medal finish at District to place fifth at the Regional meet. Cron’s time of 19:03, a new personal best, propelled her onto the list of state qualifiers. Both runners, and Cleburne as a team, were competitive at invitational races throughout the season, reflected in the Lady Jackets 2nd place finish at District and performance at Regionals.
Alicia Johnson, in her first year as head coach of the Jackets XC program, said qualifying Cleburne runners for state was among her goals for the 2018 season, knowing the talent and commitment within the girls and boys teams. Prior to her move to CHS as assistant coach in 2016, Johnson was the XC coach at Smith Middle School.
“Making it to state was a goal, knowing how they left off last year,” she said. “Knowing the runners we had, I felt it was possible for Cleburne to be in the state lineup this year. I coached both these girls at Smith—they are some of my kids.”
“They’re both very driven and extremely dedicated,” Johnson said. “They show up every day ready to work. They are team leaders and lead by example. They never complain and are very driven.”
Making it to state was the end goal--and a very defined goal--for her junior cross country season according to Marshall. She finished in the top five at all but one invitational meet, where she came in ninth.
“My intent was not to just barely make it to state, but to place in the top ten at Regionals,” she said. “I made the top five, so I beat that goal. I didn’t feel good at District and knew at Regionals I had to have a good race. I felt faster, but I didn’t realize just how much faster until I saw my time--then it made sense.”
“The competition at Regionals, coupled with my goal to get to state were major factors,” Marshall said. “I know what I need to do in being ready for Saturday. I’m not nervous now, but I will be when I get there.”
Basketball has always been Cron’s first sport, with cross country an ideal way to get in shape for racing up and down the court. But this year, she chose to take her participation in cross country to a whole new level.
“Basketball is where my heart lies,” she said. “I’ve run cross country since eighth grade because it was something to do while I wasn’t in basketball. It’s also an interest, and maybe something I could do in college with basketball if I go to a D2 school.”
“But at the start of the season, Coach Johnson told us to get out of our comfort zones,” Cron said. “I took that very seriously and in practice really began to push myself. I tried to stay up with Maggie and some of the boys. I have definitely surprised myself. I wanted to get my time into the 20s, and now I’m in the low 19s.”
Cron crossed the finish line at Regionals 37 seconds faster than her fourth place time at District.
“Coach Johnson and Coach (Patty) Foster have told us we can do more than we think we can—and it’s true,” Cron said. “I was hoping to make in into the top ten at District and go to Regionals, but I knew I would have to really run hard, to really push myself. I tried more this year and wanted to improve and I guess this is what trying gets you.”
While both state qualifiers have been friends and teammates since the eighth grade, their approach to running is very different. Marshall is analytical, with every day including a training plan. Cron says she just runs.
“Cross country can be so relaxing,” she said. “It gets your mind off things. I just run and get everything out.”
“I’m very think-through,” Marshall said. “I admit when I run I can over-think, because I am an analytical person. I’m trying to be more of a ‘just run’ runner, but I also try to be very smart about training—what to eat, monitoring my speed days and recovery.”
When it comes to dedication and commitment, the two Lady Jackets are on the same page according to their coach.
“They are also very competitive and this is the payoff they have worked for,” Johnson said. “It’s the last race and I believe they will finish with new personal records, with plans to build on what they have accomplished.”
The State Cross Country Championships 5A girls race is set for 2:30 p.m. at Old Settlers Park in Round Rock.
Cleburne’s Maggie Marshall and Caitlyn Cron will be in Round Rock Saturday competing in the UIL State Cross Country Championships. The last time the CHS girls XC program sent qualifiers to the state meet was in 2005. (Photo by David Beans)