The Berkeley Stags cross country program continues to make great strides under the tutelage of coach Melissa Hicks, now entering her fourth season at the helm.
In 2013, the Stags sent seven runners to the Class AAA state championship meet, a first for Hicks. This fall she wants to take the program one giant leap forward by fielding a complete girls team.
“This will be my fourth season as head coach and I haven’t been able to recruit enough girls to field a team yet,” Hicks said. “And I would absolutely love to field a complete girls’ team.
“Usually a team is seven runners; however, you are considered a team with only five. I had some interest back in May and only time will tell if they all stick with it until August.”
On the boys’ side Hicks has to find someone to take up the standard left behind by her two top runners, Austin Clewis and Tony Lilly.
The bad news, both Clewis and Lilly posted times almost a full minute over the other returning runners. The good news, Hicks has a lot of runners from which to fill her top five slots.
“I have 13 runners returning from last season,” she said. “My number two, three, and four runners will be coming back and will need to train hard this summer. At his fastest, Austin was about a minute ahead of my next runner.
“We have a solid two months of training and I am hoping for the best. Only time will tell.”
Hicks will be looking closely at runner Aaron Grant’s times over the summer and has installed a new summer training program she hopes will produce dramatically improved times.
“I am looking forward to seeing Aaron Grant’s performance because he has continued to run since last cross country season. I am trying out a new training program and hopefully it will produce the quality results I am looking for.”
Hicks’ Stags finished third in Region 8AAA and she looks for a tough battle among the Stags’ region opponents this year.
“Hilton Head is the toughest competitor in our region and it will be a few more years before we are ready to fight it out with them,” she said. “The next competitor in our region is Hanahan.
“They beat us last year in the region meet by two points and then we beat them at Lower State qualifying by two points.”
New to the region is Beaufort, another strong running school like Hilton Head.
“It will be nice to see how we stack up with them,” Hicks said.
It will take a complete team effort for the Stags to make another deep run in the state tournament, Hicks said, which is why her Stags are hitting the streets this summer.
“Our times have to improve,” she said. “In order for the team to return to state again this year we must have a few boys running in the 17-minute range and the rest of the boys must be under 19 minutes. It will be tough, but with hard work and dedication it is possible. I have a lot of experienced runners returning and they know how to work hard.”