April Grubbs is a four-year runner who qualified for the state meet each of the last three seasons at Cawood. She said she feels that she has improved over the course of the season.
“I’ve gotten better on the hills,” she said. “At the beginning of the year, I couldn’t run a hill to save my life. Coach kept telling me to pick up my legs and I’d make it through it.”
“She’s running, on average, faster than she’s ever run before,” Vitatoe said before praising Grubbs’ maturity. “She’s one of the more responsible kids I’ve ever known — she’s keeping up her studies, running cross country and working a job. She’s a very, very responsible kid, and she’s been a great influence on these younger girls.”
Grubbs is the girls team’s second-most experienced runner, behind Hayley Helton. With several first-year runners on the team, Vitatoe praised Grubbs for her leadership.
“Her experience has been vital,” he said. “Sometimes, when these other girls have been down, I’ve seen her take them and put her arm around them and talk about her experience when she first started. That’s been a big key in getting some of these other girls moving.”
“Me and Hayley are both team captains, and we work hard to bring the girls up to where they need to be,” Grubbs said.
J.K. Hensley is participating in cross country for the third year. He was part of the Cawood boys team that qualified for the state meet last year.
“I think everybody’s experience, coming together, has been awesome for the team,” he said.
Vitatoe praised Hensley’s attitude and work ethic.
“J.K. is an absolutely great kid,” he said. “He comes in and works hard every single minute of practice and has a great attitude all the time. You know 10 years from now he’s going to be very successful — no doubt about it.”
Both Hensley and his coach said he has improved “across the board” in his senior season.
“If you look at his times compared to last year, on average he’s two minutes faster,” Vitatoe said. “His goal coming into the season to run under 20 (minutes) — he’s done it three times now.”
“I’ve improved all the way around,” Hensley agreed. “I’m a completely different runner this year than I was last year — my race pace last year is my jogging this year.”
Both runners said they feel confident going into the regional meet.
“I feel good,” Hensley said. “I think I can do really good in the regional. I think as a team, we can at least get second place. I’m almost positive we’ll go to state.”
“I feel that we have a pretty good chance,” Grubbs said. “The girls are nervous about it, but I feel we’ve got a better chance than we think we do. We all believe in each other.”