COVINGTON, Ga. — The sports scene at Eastside High School is a well-established one, known for its successes in football, softball, basketball and baseball. However, one program not aforementioned achieved relatively great success last season, and is looking to build off that momentum to propel it to the next level.
In her first season at the helm of Eastside’s cross-country team, head coach Kelsey Hays led the Eagles to a 19th placing out of 58 teams at state in 2016. While the team is headlined by many newcomers, she is determined to improve upon that standing this season and potentially accomplish even more.
“We’ve got a lot of freshman this year,” Hays said. “We have a very young team, but we have a few that are returning that are really taking charge.”
Senior, Dos Harper is one of those key returners. Hays called Harper a natural leader to the team and someone who encourages his teammates, while junior, Katherine Piper — a newcomer to the squad — is deemed by Hays as one of her fastest runners on the team.
Regardless of whether her athletes are fresh faces or seasoned veterans, Hays says her coaching approach with them is the same — to help foster cohesiveness and chemistry throughout the team. And it’s something that seems to be rubbing off on Harper.
“I develop strong bonds with my teammates and that allows me to motivate others to work hard, and we come out stronger as a team than any individual could be alone,” Harper said. “When on a team, I go by the Fifth Law of the Navy which states, ‘On the strength of one link in the cable, dependeth the might of the chain. Who knows when thou mayest be tested, so live in thou bearest the strain.”
Although Hays never ran cross country, she fell in love with running after an injury prevented her from dancing again, thus giving her plenty of experience with the sport, which shows in the way she plans her practices with differing workouts depending on the day.
“On Mondays which are our long run days, we usually do about eight miles,” she said. “On Tuesdays, we do hill workouts, sprints and different speed work. Wednesdays are usually our track days, and they do a timed mile which determines their varsity placement, and then Thursdays we do intervals and ultimate frisbee.”
After a seventh-place finish in the team’s season-opening meet, Hays noted that she is sticking to the same regiment to prepare the team for their upcoming “Battle of Atlanta” meet on Saturday at Hampton’s Nash Farm.
“We’re doing the same thing as normal,” she said. “We change up different things on long run days and sprint days, but they’re all similar workouts to prepare them. The first part of the season is more strength and endurance, but as we get further on in the season, we want to work on speed more.”
Harper made note that the bond between the team is strong, and he spoke with a certain confidence about the likelihood of the team accomplishing its chief goal.
“We lost a lot of good runners this year, but I work hard every day and I think that it creates a vibe for my teammates to do the same,” Harper said. “(But) I look forward to the relationships that I get to make on the team and the moments when we accomplish our goals that we set. Everybody pushes each other and nobody’s more important than the other. That’s how we will make it to state.”