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Cougar thinclads making big strides

 

By DAVID GRAVELY

editor@southwesttimes.com

 

The Pulaski County High School cross country team has been a busy bunch this season, working with a mostly young group of athletes to build the future while still working to be competitive now.

 

Head Coach Sirak Ogbagabir, now in his 15th year overall as a coach and ninth year as the lead man for the Cougars, has seen some truly phenomenal talent pass through the program over the years. Names like Grace Boone, Hunter Thomas, Kelsey Arnold, Madison Woolwine, Armonte Hill-Lewis and many, many others have earned hardware for the Cougars recently.

 

Several Pulaski County alumni are now competing in cross country or track 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 are competing at Emory and Henry. Cade Compton is working hard at VMI. Savannah Solomon is at Tennessee Wesleyan. 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 at the next level.

 

Now, the current generation of Cougars are working 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. He also has a middle school squad made up 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 middle school side there are seven eighth graders, four seventh graders and one sixth grader.

 

Those middle school 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 include just Pulaski County runners either. Numbers matter. Building interest in the sport will produce numbers.

 

Pulaski County started the 2021 season at the Bengal Clash Invitational at Bassett High School. The team came away with a runner-up 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 middle schoolers had a medalist in seventh grader Dani Carroll, who placed third in the race. Some readers may remember a younger Dani Carroll earning hardware years ago as a Dublin Elementary School student in a race at the New River Valley Airport. Her interest in running began when her older sister was an athlete at the high school. It was also sparked by the morning mile running club at Dublin Elementary School.

 

Fast forward to the Knights Crossing Invitational. Carroll was at it again, taking 12th in the 4K race our of almost 300 competitors. In the boys middle school race, eighth graders Silas Sweet finished 10th and Cole Boone took 14th out of over 300 to earn even more hardware.

 

Kinder was able to take 28th place and almost cracked a loaded top 25 field. Seniors Wes King, Even Hull and Thomas Hanshew led the charge for the Cougars to place 11th as a team overall out of over 70 teams between both divisions. The younger runners ran in the junior varsity race and put up solid efforts as well.

 

Most recently, the teams took on the Alleghany Invitational. The middle school boys struck again with Boone and Sweet taking the top two spots to lead the Cougars to a third place trophy. Eighth grader Ben Marinaro cracked the top 20 with a 19th place finish. Eighth grader Josh Sechrist was 27th and sixth grader Qyle English was 30th, running a very good team race to help get the job done.

 

Carroll once again led the younger Lady Cougars, taking second place for the 3,000-meter distance and earning more hardware for her very young career.

 

The boys varsity saw major improvements as all the athletes had lifetime or season bests. Garrett Kinder took sixth and earned hardware in a very solid field. The boys team ended up seventh overall, but were without the services of senior Wes King, which would have very likely had them on the podium with his presence.

 

For the JV athletes, freshman Zaiden Morris and Nora Lester really put it together with massive time drops, which seemed to be the situation for all the Cougar thinclads.

 

“We have had a great start to the season and I am very happy with where we are at this time of the year,” Coach Sirak said. “For our program, we gear toward the post season, so to have training going the way it’s been and still have athletes improve this much is a great sign. Our youngsters are very impressive and show that the future is bright. We are so lucky to have middle school kids able to be with us and learn firsthand the sport and our standard. Our boys team has had a long road. These guys have come off of club cross country last fall and indoor run for a state title in the winter, a spring cross country season and a championship spring track season and turned around three weeks later to get ready for now! They are resilient and we are on the right track to make a run at getting back to the state meet and more. As a coach, the biggest thing I have taken from this season is the commitment from our kids. The sprinters worked in the off season every day and they were willing to run some cross country races and come to every meet to be there for their teammates. The family orientation of this program is astounding and it’s been a part of the vision I’ve 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 Saturday, Oct. 2, at Randolph Park for the Cougar Clash Invitational.

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