THE WOODLANDS — The Woodlands Christian Academy cross country program has been one of the most successful in Montgomery County, regardless of the sport, over the past several years. There is a lineup of state championship banners hanging in the gym as tangible proof.
With the new season underway, head coach Tom Earle is confident in what his runners can accomplish. TWCA played host to its annual home meet on Saturday morning, filing more than 760 runners through the muddy, rain-soaked course.
“There were just about 450 [runners] last year, so this is much bigger,” Earle said. “I took a chance when I was designing the course here, making use of the Jones State Forest to do a little bit more.
“In previous years, when we’ve done some smaller middle school meets, we would just go out and back. With this one, we’re going bigger and doing full trails. Unfortunately the rain hurt us a little bit because it’s pretty sloppy out there, and the times are little bit slower, but it’s fun. Everyone’s having a good time.”
Perhaps the runner who had the most fun was TWCA junior Ben Shearer, who won the varsity boys race in dominating fashion. He crossed the finish line of the five-kilometer course at 16 minutes, 29.52 seconds, about 10 seconds ahead of the next competitor.
The Warriors finished third as a team, despite missing their No. 3 runner, Caleb Bigler, who was busy taking the SAT. His teammates picked up the slack the best they could and came in with a score of 64. That was three points behind runner-up Providence Classical (61) and five behind Awty International (59).
Shearer was followed by fellow junior Ben Mueck, who took third place at 17:28.42. Freshmen Zachary Bagnoli (16th, 19:18.10), Lucas Trevathan (26th, 20:28.89) and Seth Culberson (31st, 20:48.24), and junior Forrest Remy (35th, 22:28.52) rounded out the Warriors’ competitors for the day.
“The boys did really well, and I know that one is a true 5K race,” Earle said. “Ben Shearer was killing it, and the boys all looked pretty good.”
The TWCA boys are the two-time defending TAPPS Class 4A champions, but only Shearer and Mueck ran for the team in the state meet last fall. The rest of the roster is relatively inexperienced, but Earle believes they still have a lot of potential.
“On the guys side, we’re really young,” Earle said. “Last year was a really dominant group to be able to help push the seniors that went through. We might be a top-three, top-five team at state. That’s what I’m hoping for, but it’s going to be more competitive and tougher.”
The TWCA girls, meanwhile, are aiming for a fifth state title in six seasons. The Lady Warriors have won three consecutive championships, thanks in large part to senior Ellie Catron, who was absent from the meet on Saturday. Instead, she was in Portland, joining the Hood-to-Coast 200-mile team relay to generate support for Vision Trust and Olympian Lopez Lamong’s home of South Sudan.
“Ellie is our only senior, and they’ve won it four out of the last five years, and then the other year, they got second,” Earle said. “So they know what it takes, and this group is really hungry for it.”
TWCA only had four runners on the course, so not enough for a full team, but Earle was encouraged by what he saw. The Lady Warriors were also without their No. 2 runner, sophomore Lindsey Worthington, who took second place at state behind Catron.
Junior Fern Shirley was the top finisher on Saturday, taking 10th place with a time of 16 minutes, 3.88 seconds on the 3,200-kilometer course. Sophomore Ellie Johnson (14th, 16:35.27), junior Sydney Mathis (21st, 18:07.60) and sophomore Chesnie Russell (24th, 18:18.05) rounded out the competitors.
“The other girls were doing well,” Earle said. “The times were a little slow on that one, but the course was really sloppy, and they were running through all of that. But yeah, they’re looking strong this year.”