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HUGHES: Williamstown cross country keeps on growing

WILLIAMSTOWN — What can be said that hasn’t already been said about Williamstown cross country? Years at the top for Larry Cassady’s girls and a breakthrough with a state meet appearance in 2020 for Cliff Taylor’s boys give the ‘Jackets plenty to be excited about in 2021 and beyond.

The season is over and has been for weeks, but five Yellowjacket runners gave the program a glimpse of the present and future on Dec. 12-13 in Paris, Ky. during the USATF National Junior Olympic Championships. Hundreds of participants from across the county between the ages of 14 and 18 ran in 4k and 5k races to determine All-Americans in each age group.

Heading into her senior year, Brianna Winsett was the lone high school representative for the ‘Jackets. Middle schoolers Alyssa Sauro, Alexis Wynn, Cooper Billingsley and Will Coiner transition to the high school level, as they gave Cassady and Taylor a glimpse of what could be in the following years.

Sauro and Wynn were among the field of 160 14-year olds in the group’s 4k race, and the two ‘Jackets impressed in the front of the pack.

Sauro finished 12th and comfortably qualified as an All-American inside the top 25 with a time of 15:28.63. The newly-minted All-American gave her thoughts on her preparation and the race as a whole.

“It feels great,” Sauro said of finishing as an All-American. “It’s been a goal of mine, and that makes me feel good. I work out with my team for three days a week, so I think that really helps. The future is pretty bright, and I think we’re going to be really good. Our coaches are really great, and they’ll help us out with that. I was just wanting to do well and just stay with my teammate, Lexi Wynn (who finished in 57th with a time of 16:46.35). I wanted to stay with her, and focus on getting a good time and to not worry about it too much. I knew I had less than a minute there (at the end of the run), so I just had to push it, and I can do anything for a minute.”

Winsett was the next-closest to All-American honors, as her 33rd place finish among 66 runners in her group saw the ‘Jacket clock in at 21:00 at the end her 5k race. The championship window for the WHS girls is wide open. Coach Cassady knows a target is on his team’s back, as he reflected on what this event means for his program.

“I think this deepens the program,” he said of Williamstown’s representation in Paris. “They competed against kids from all over the country, and that’s huge, compared to just running locally. “They got put on a stage like that and did very well. It’s going to be encouraging for other runners to come out for the team. They’ll see what we’re doing when they hear about things like this.”

Billingsley and Coiner took their turn in the field of 170 14-year olds in their 4k race.

Coiner’s 104th-place finish gave him a time of 15:58, while Billingsley’s 140th-place finish gave him a time of 17:07. Coach Taylor sees room to improve for his runners but noted they both ran at a solid pace. That’s enough to give his entire team plenty of confidence heading into next season.

“Our program is really on the upswing right now,” he said. “You don’t want to brag on them a whole lot, because that’ll just put the bullseye on their back, but these boys helped win the middle school LKC last year. They’re moving up to the high school level, and our program is fixing to take off on the boys’ side, now. Once you break through that barrier (of qualifying for the state meet), a lot of things can happen. (Billingsley and Coiner) both ran good times, and the guys they were running against were very mature runners. When you are able to run at the pace Will and Cooper are running, just a year of maturity, you’ll see a difference in them. They’ll be running with the same effort, but they’ll be much faster.”

Contact Josh Hughes at jhughes@newsandsentinel.com

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