The 2014 Elkin cross country men’s season started in November 2013 - just after they finished second at the 1A state meet.
“They have one goal in mind,” Coach Dan Merritt said. “That’s to be champions. They set that when they walked away from the state meet. They have dedicated themselves to that this summer.”
Everybody is back for the men except Brandon Welborn, who took his talents to Montreat College. Milesplit.com’s preseason poll ranks them third going into the season.
“We want to come back and win it,” Merritt said. We have a very good team. If we stay healthy, we’ll have good shot at it.”
The Buckin’ Elks men have won the conference two of the last three years. Like the women, they have been to state three of the last four years.
“We have a very good conference,” Merritt said. “We have a lot of competition with West Wilkes, East Wilkes, Ashe County, and Wilkes Central.
“They are all formidable opponents. We don’t disrespect any of them.”
Elkin will be led by Jacob Parker, a junior. “Jacob is working really hard,” Merritt said. “He’s in very good shape. He’ll be a top three finisher this year.”
Merritt said when he told Parker, who finished ninth at state a year ago, that he thought he’d be a top three finisher, Parker replied, “Why so low?”
“That’s just Jacob,” Merritt said. “He always goes into a race thinking he can win it.”
Four more juniors, Blake Poplin, Said Javier, Jonah Christian, and Eli Brown, complete the returning five for Elkin.
“They’re running in a pack,” Merritt said. “It’s intimidating. I expect who finishes second through fifth to change every week.”
The women, ranked seventh in Milesplit.com’s preseason poll, finished sixth at state a year ago. “Our goal right now is to win conference,” Merritt said. “We’re right there with Ashe County. Last year they did extremely well.
“They’re training well. They’re looking good.”
The Buckin’ Elks will be led by senior Shakai Ward - the returning Mountain Valley Athletic Conference Cross Country Athlete of the Year. She will be pushed, Merritt said, by seniors Madeline Carter and Kelsey Nicholson.
What could slow the women down is numbers. They will have just six runners. With five needed to score, six doesn’t allow much margin for error.
“We don’t have any wiggle room,” Merritt said. “We can’t afford to make any mistakes.”
While both teams have significant aspirations this season, Merritt reminded his team at Tuesday’s practice that winning is about attitude. “If you do your very best, that’s all that matters,” he told the team.
Notes: Merritt was the MVAC Coach of the Year in 2013. Elkin was the highest-finishing public school in both the men’s and women’s competition at the state meet last year. Elkin opens the season with Forbush and Davie County at the Yadkinville Park August 26.
Jim Fuller may be reached at 336-258-4052 or Twitter @elkinareasports.