Willard debuts as SA cross country coach
Starkville Academy has already debuted its new head football coach and head soccer coach this school year.
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Today at Choctaw Trails in Clinton at the Jackson Academy Invitational, Susan Willard begins her reign at the top of the Volunteers' cross country program.
Willard takes over for former coaches Joe and Julie Macgown.
"Starkville Academy's cross country team was looking for a coach to replace two irreplaceable coaches," said Willard. "So I threw my name in and got the job and plan to have some fun with it. I've got tough shoes to fill."
Willard has had no previous coaching stints, but has plenty of experience in cross country and related activities dating back to high school. She has also been a principal trainer and fitness director at two different Gold's Gyms.
"I have a lot of training experience behind me, but no actual coaching experience," said Willard. "So this is a new, exciting trip for me as well."
This season, Willard's team has actually grown from the group the Macgown's coached just a year ago.
"We lost quite a few runners from last year, but with transfers and things, we actually do have a larger team," said Willard. "We're a pretty young team with several runners that are middle-school aged, sixth through eighth grade."
One senior does return for Willard in the form of Thomas McBroom.
Two returning girls for SA are Christa Wilburn and Courtney Chesnut.
Of Willard's young up-and-comers, she notes Austin Miles and Layton Little as a duo that could blossom this year.
"I think that they are building their mileage and will definitely be worth watching this season," said Willard.
A total of nine boys and six girls make up Willard's team.
Willard actually has enough girls this season to qualify them as a team rather than having to compete in events as individuals.
Now, after watching her first squad come together, Willard is ready to see her crew compete.
"Our returnees are ready to get that first meet under their belts and our younger runners are a little nervous," said Willard. "With cross country, you've just got to put them out there and let them go."
Willard notes that today's meet is actually of pretty high importance since both the regional and state finals will be held on the same course.
"This is our only opportunity to run on that course before then," said Willard. "So this is big for us, especially for our new runners that haven't ran on that trail before."