Cross-country season brings change, adversity, success

Courtney Long enjoys success in first year as varsity head coach as girls team makes to regions and senior Thomas Melina Raab goes all the way to state

The+girls+cross-country+team+qualified+for+regionals+with+a+breakthrough+race+at+district%2C+putting+four+runners+in+the+top+20+en+route+to+a+third-place+finish.+Lillian+Gray+qualified+for+regionals+individually+with+a+seventh-place+finish.+

The girls cross-country team qualified for regionals with a breakthrough race at district, putting four runners in the top 20 en route to a third-place finish. Lillian Gray qualified for regionals individually with a seventh-place finish.

The cross-country season came to a close for most runners the district meet on Oct. 14, while senior Thomas Melina Raab, freshman Lillian Gray and the entire girls varsity team advanced to the regional level of competition. Despite muggy weather on the morning of the district meet, the runners gave it their all and obtained some times to be proud of.

“I beat my personal best time from last year four times,” junior Adrian Reinhardt said. “Overall, I feel like I did well, but next year I’m making it to regionals.”

“My goal at the start of the year was to run under 17 minutes,” Thomas Melina Raab said. “I started off and ran a 17:13 at the first meet. I was really able to smash that, and hit a 16:20 twice this year.” 

Melina Raab emerged as the team’s leading runner, assuming a role that had been held by fellow senior Chris Riley, a two-time state qualifier, who missed all of his senior cross-country season due to injury.

Coach Long is much more relaxed. She’s really all about teamwork, and making sure everyone is working.”

— senior Thomas Melina Raab

In addition to Riley’s absence, this season held another big change with the introduction of the new cross-country coach, Courtney Long. After Susan Ashton retired after 17 years, Long was nervous about stepping in.

“Coming in after such a legendary coach made it difficult,” Coach Long said about filling in this year. “Change is hard, especially for kids. I didn’t run cross country in high school, so I really had no idea what to expect at our first meeting. It was definitely a learning process.”

Long wasn’t afraid however to make changes where she saw fit.

“Last year, freshmen weren’t allowed on the varsity team,” Reinhardt said. “This year, It’s just whoever is fast enough. She’s also more competitive, so she pushes us in a different way than Coach Ashton would.”

Junior Owen McGuire said the substance of Long’s coaching matched her predecessor’s.

“Practices didn’t change that much fundamentally,” McGuire said. “Her teaching style is really different, though. She’s kind of building off of what Coach Ashton did, but in her own way.”

Melina Raab said that Long’s approach is more laid-back and focused on team-building.

Thomas Melina Raab elegantly runs at the Texas UIL State cross country meet at Old Settlers Park, solely representing McCallum on the field. (Grace Nugent)

“She’s a really different coach,” Melina Raab said. “Coach Ashton was very old-school and traditional, but Coach Long is much more relaxed. She’s really all about teamwork, and making sure everyone is working. It’s a big change, but I think it’s a good thing.”

Now that the season is over, runners recapped the goals they set for the season and assessed how much they’ve improved. Ms. Long mentioned her goals for her first year of coaching.

“My goal this year was to feel out the season,” Long said. “I tried to do things like Coach Ashton did, and then saw what changes I could make for the following season,” Long said. “To make it through was really the main goal, and we did that.”

This season also marked the first season in quite a while that the girls cross country team was competitive. More than competitive really as the seven-member varsity team made it into region.

“I’m glad at least one part of our team made it to regionals,” McGuire said. “I’m super proud of them.”

On Oct. 25, Thomas Melina Raab placed 12th in the boys varsity meet, good enough to quality for the UIL State meet on Nov. 5. He ran a time of 16:27. The girls varsity placed 15th as a team with an average finish time of 22:45.

[Sophomore David Herring] was like the team’s hype man. Every day, he’s so excited to be there, and he motivates all the other runners”

— Coach Courtney Long

The very first Friday of November was a big day for Thomas as he represented McCallum at the state meet. 

“It was nothing like I felt at region,” Melina Raab said. “It was a completely different environment. I was pretty nervous.”

Running an average of 5 minutes and 26 seconds a mile, Thomas placed 83rd out of 152 runners in a time of 16:53.

“It was not the way I wanted it to go,” Melina Raab said. “But making it to state was a big accomplishment in and of itself.”

Although Long was proud of the entire team, she said that there were a select few who stood out. Long mentioned Charlotte Wunz, who moved to Austin from Pennsylvania this year.

“She came in this year as a junior, and fit right in with everyone,” Long said, “and she’s [made it to] to region!”

For the boys, Long highlighted David Herring.

“He was like the team’s hype man. Every day, he’s so excited to be there, and he motivates all the other runners. And of course, Thomas Melina Raab, who just loves the sport. He comes to talk to me, tell me everything about it. He’s basically my coach!”

Reinhardt, a sophomore, had high praise for his freshmen teammates.

The boys and girls cross-country teams assemble for a group photo to celebrate their success at the district meet on Oct. 14. (courtesy of Courtney Long)

“All the freshmen were really fast this year,” Reinhardt said. “Fox Redmond was the fastest one, though.”

McGuire agreed.

“Alastair Dorsett improved his time the most in my opinion, but the entire JV boys team has really improved.”

Melina Raab had high praise for his varsity teammate and fellow senior Robert Krajicek.

“Robert Krajicek did really well this season,” Melina Raab said. “After an off year last season during the thick of the pandemic, he came back and towards the end of the year he really picked up. He was super close to making it to regionals.”

Looking into the future, most runners already have their eyes on ambitions and goals for the future. Both McGuire and Reinhardt say they’d like to get faster times.

“I’d like to get faster than 23 minutes,” Reinhardt said. “This year I got a time of 23:12. I also really want to make it to regionals, and I will probably run varsity.”

Melina Raab has a closer target in mind: the spring track season.

“I’m looking forward to the track season,” Melina Raab said. “That’s where the fun really starts, and I can show how much I’ve improved.”

Long meanwhile is looking to build her program.

“We had a really big team this year,” Long said. “So a goal for next year would be to keep it that big, and even try to grow it.”

While she is looking ahead to a brighter future, she said she is proud of all the team accomplished this season.

“I am so proud of how hard everyone’s worked this season,” Long said. “They’ve overcome the challenge of having a new coach, and they’re doing super well.”