By DAVID GRAVELY
The Pulaski County High School Cross Country Team has been very busy this season, working with a group of mostly young athletes to build the future while working to be competitive now.
Head coach Sirak Ogbagabir, now in his 15e Overall year as a coach and ninth year as a senior man for the Cougars, has seen some truly phenomenal talent run through the program over the years. Names like Grace Boone, Hunter Thomas, Kelsey Arnold, Madison Woolwine, Armonte Hill-Lewis and many more have recently won material for the Cougars.
Several Pulaski County alumni are now competing in cross country or track and field competitions at the college level. Boone is at Virginia Tech. Thomas is at Concord. Arnold is at Radford University. Woolwine is at the University of Charleston. James Guthrie and Brody Fields compete against Emory and Henry. Cade Compton works hard at VMI. Savannah Solomon is in Wesleyan Tennessee. Brady Fowler is at Roanoke College and Allyson Castle is at Christopher Newport University. Their names have been added to a list that includes names like Leslie Anderson, Amber Church, Damon Akers and a long list of others to run or jump to the next level.
Now, the current generation of Cougars are working hard to put their stamp on the program. Coach Sirak currently has a boys’ team consisting of 15 seniors, eight juniors, five sophomores and five freshmen. It also has a college team consisting of six eighth graders, three seventh graders, and one sixth grader.
For the ladies, the numbers are just a little lower. The Lady Cougars have five seniors, five juniors, 10 sophomores and six freshmen. On the college side, there are seven eighth grade students, four seventh grade students and one sixth grade student.
These college runners are the key to future success. Another key is the club team that Sirak has formed to bring more runners into the sport. This doesn’t just include runners from Pulaski County. Numbers matter. Developing interest in sports will produce numbers.
Pulaski County started the 2021 season at the Bengal Clash Invitational at Bassett High School. The team walked away with a finalist trophy and three individual medalists. Sophomore Garrett Kinder led the way with a third place finish. Senior Wes King was sixth and senior Thomas Hanshew was 15th.
The college kids had seventh-year medalist Dani Carroll, who placed third in the race. Some readers may remember a young Dani Carroll who won equipment years ago as a Dublin Primary School student in a run at New River Valley Airport. Her interest in running began when her older sister was a high school athlete. It was also sparked by the Dublin Primary School Morning Run Club.
Fast forward to the Knights Crossing Invitational. Carroll was at it again, taking 12e in the 4K race our nearly 300 competitors. In the boys’ middle school race, eighth grade students Silas Sweet finished 10e and Cole Boone took 14e on more than 300 to gain even more material.
Kinder was able to take 28e up and almost cracked a loaded top 25. Seniors Wes King, Even Hull and Thomas Hanshew led the charge to put the Cougars in 11 placee as a global team out of more than 70 teams between the two divisions. The young runners participated in the junior varsity race and also put in a solid effort.
Most recently, the teams faced the Alleghany Invitational. The college boys struck again with Boone and Sweet taking the top two places to lead the Cougars to a third place trophy. Eighth grader Ben Marinaro took the top 20 with a 19e place the finish. Josh Sechrist, eighth grade student, was 27e and the sixth year Qyle English was 30e, by having a really good team race to help get the job done.
Carroll again led the younger Lady Cougars, taking second place in the 3,000-meter distance and gaining more equipment for his very young career.
The boys’ college has seen major improvements as all the athletes have achieved either lifetime or season records. Garrett Kinder took sixth place and got some equipment in a very strong field. The boys’ team finished seventh overall, but without the services of senior Wes King, who most likely would have had them on the podium with his presence.
For JV athletes, rookie Zaiden Morris and Nora Lester really set it up with massive time drops, which seemed to be the situation for all Cougar Thinclads.
“We’ve had a great start to the season and I’m very happy with where we are at this time of year,” said coach Sirak. “For our schedule, we are preparing for the playoffs, so the fact that training is going the way it has been and the athletes are still improving so much is a good sign. Our young people are very impressive and show that the future is bright. We are so lucky to have college students able to be with us and directly learn the sport and our level. Our team of boys has had a long journey. These guys came out of the cross country club last fall and an indoor run for a state title in winter, a spring cross country season and a spring track championship season and got on with it. returned three weeks later to prepare for the moment! They are resilient and we are on the right track in attempting to return to state competition and more. As a coach, the most important thing that I have taken away from this season is the commitment of our children. The sprinters worked every day during the offseason and they were ready to run cross country races and come to every meet to be there for their teammates. The family orientation of this program is amazing and it is part of the vision I had for this program. You couldn’t find a better group of young people to work with!
The Cougars were scheduled to be back in action on Saturday, October 2 at Randolph Park for the Cougar Clash Invitational.