From the moment she participated in her first cross country practice this summer, Johnson High freshman Kyra Gaddy knew it was the right fit for her.
A lifelong distance track runner and soccer player, Gaddy instantly fell in love with the sport, specifically the camaraderie forged among teammates.
It was that bond that helped Gaddy and the Jaguar cross country program snag an 11th place finish at the UIL Class 4A girls state championships Saturday, capping off a wildly successful inaugural year.
For Gaddy, who finished 22nd out of 149 runners, all she could think about was her team as she sprinted toward the finish line.
“I was thinking about my family, my coach and teammates and how we’ve been doing so well this year,” Gaddy said. “I was imagining that after this, we did so much this season. We overcame a lot.”
Getting to state was an accomplishment Jaguar head cross country coach Ashley Laughlin felt was within the realm of possibility, but was also a bit of a longshot. With only freshmen and sophomores running, Laughlin knew the team had an uphill climb.
It was around mid-September that Laughlin realized getting to regionals, and perhaps even state, was within their grasp. After conducting some research, Laughlin saw her runners were right up there with some of the best in Region IV.
Helping matters was consistency, which led to success that inevitably became contagious. Laughlin said once her runners got a taste of success on the course, a feeling of “we can do this” took over.
It didn’t take long for the Jaguars to get noticed when they made the cut out of district.
The Jags further made their mark when they captured 4th place in the Region IV meet in Corpus Christi in late October, becoming the very first Jaguar team in school history to reach state.
At state, Johnson High was the youngest of the 16 total teams at the meet Saturday, taking on athletes who in some cases were three years older than most of the Jaguar squad.
None of that mattered once the opening gun shot off and runners sprinted off the starting line, Gaddy said.
“It doesn’t matter what age you are. When you’re running with your community and being there, that’s all that matters,” Gaddy said. “It’s so nice to be here at state.”
Laughlin credited the work of sophomores such as Cam Roberts who helped to set the tone for the team.
“No one saw us in this position,” Laughlin said. “For us to be here, it speaks volumes to the kids and their work ethic.”
The work now begins for the Jaguars as they eye a possible return in 2020. That will include the possibility of moving up to the 5A ranks, which also means running a 5,000-meter course, once realignment is completed in February. Athletes in the 4A girls race run a 3,200-meter course.
“We want to work on getting less nervous, pacing better and getting faster,” Gaddy said. “Hopefully we’ll be here next year, too.”