Though the Lady Indians missed the University Interscholastic League Regional Cross Country Meet at Lynn Creek Park in Grand Prairie last October, the 2017 version may make a larger stride in less than a month.

In truth, Todd Alexander, his girls and Waxahachie High School were steps away last season.

"We were one place out and literally steps away," Alexander said. When you walk off at the district meet knowing how close you were, you get a good teaching lesson about never being able to go back. You learn you can't say 'I wish I had' or I could've or should've.' I can tell from the [returning] girls work ethic that they're focused and that they learned something from that day."

The Lady Indians closed the meet in fourth place with 88 points scored and was one of two Ellis County teams to earn a cumulative top five place with a time of 1:53:16.6. Despite the finish, they narrowly missed qualifying for the regional competition.

Caymee Bigham, the sister of junior Cathryn Bigham, was the only female competitor to represent WHS in the regional meet after finishing second among all 10-5A varsity girls with a time of 20:59.8.

Alexander, the second-year head girls' cross country coach, said a positive projection may be true despite the loss of Caymee because of graduation in the spring. The former long distance iron woman was one of the best female XC runners in the last decade in green and white.

To him, there is much to be excited about when the girls log their first official miles.

"The way they responded is what really fired me up," Alexander added. "When you have a setback, you can only handle it one of two ways. You can curl up and quit or take on the challenge. I firmly believe they're doing the latter with our ultimate goal in mind."

FINDING THEIR STRIDE

Finding success in cross country means logging heavy miles – much more than the average track and field athlete. It requires blood, sweat, tears, endurance, speed and character — especially after mile No. 7.

"It's paramount. It's huge. Being mentally tough is part of possessing character," Alexander said. "If you're not or don't have it, you're not going to be successful in this sport. There's a grind runners go through on a daily basis and how they train and prepare is all a reflection of that quality and drive."

Some of that offseason growth can be attributed to yearlong running and training. Even more of that athletic maturation can be linked with players' inclusion in other sports like soccer, swimming and track and field and coaching from men and women like Jason Venable, Tamara Pruitt and Dana Scott.

Very few of Alexander's army of runners are cross-country-only athletes. That minor wrinkle could help produce the added miles his athletes need to go from good to exceptional to great, he said.

"There are a couple positions on the pitch the average soccer player runs five to six miles a game. Track clearly correlates with cross country," Alexander continued. "We don't have as many year-round runners, but we do have athletes that play multiple sports. I'm an advocate of kids playing more than one sport because of the competition, break of monotony and conditioning. It's a little different type of conditioning, but conditioning nonetheless. It does a lot for injury prevention — a thing that can take good teams out of contention."

BUILDING FOUNDATION

The Lady Indians' coach said though the loss of Caymee was significant, he noted that athletes like Kristian Dyke, Charley and Keeley Hearron and Cori Morgan are capable of filling the void in the very near future.

So, too, is a greater pool of talent laying in wait at Finley and Howard Junior High Schools coached by Allison Davis and Amanda De Leon.

"It's looking really good right now. That has a lot to do with the level of coaching at those schools," Alexander said. "We're getting several girls this year that are dedicated to the sport and prove the foundation is solid here in Waxahachie."

The good thing, he said, is that when the seventh- and eighth-grade talent intermingles with already existing stars like Mackel, there will be more than enough competition for the seven available varsity roster spots.

Junior, sophomore and freshmen Cathryn, Allyson Moore, Emma Curry and the team's lone senior Bailee Jennings are already indoctrinated in the "Tribe" way of life. Dyke, the Hearron sisters and Morgan are scheduled to touch down in 2018.

The insertion of Lady Indian soccer player Brooke Trull into the sisterhood, though, could tip the scales in Waxahachie's favor.

"She's good and only a sophomore," Alexander said. "I've been trying to convince her to come out and run. If she does, we could have a really talented team. "This team's definitely a gift to any coach. The talent part is exciting, but what's more exciting is that they all like each other, are friends, are positive and fun to be around and have great character. That's what really gets my motor running."

EYES ON THE PRIZE

While state championships are the 5,000-meter target, Alexander said he and his group of long-distance specialists are focused on one 500 meters away.

A 5A Regional Meet berth.

And though there was some internal strife associated with last season's early exit, the discomfort created a positive effect on Waxahachie's returning runners.

"First is qualifying for regionals," Alexander said. "Success breeds success and by [reaching the regional meet] we can grow what we have here, but also call more kids to be in a cross country program that has numbers and good kids that want to be successful in the classroom on the course."

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Marcus S. Marion, @MarcusMarionWNI

(469) 517-1456