The best never rest. That explains why the Parkway cross country team has been busy logging some serious mileage — in practice and on local interstates this season. The Panthers, who have won state championships in both the boys’ (2010) and the girls’ (2013) division, made history a year ago by being the first 5A school to have both the male and female cross country state champion.
Last weekend the Panthers traveled to Clinton, Mississippi, where 2014 5A state champion and The Times’ reigning Best of Preps Cross Country Female champion Sarah Funderburk was able to out kick Starkville Junior Kate Maddox in the last 200 meters of the 3-mile course at the Clinton Arrow Cross Country Invitational and avenge last year’s loss to Maddox at the Mobile Meet of Champions. Funderburk won with a time of 18:50.48, beating Maddox by three seconds.
“It was different,” Funderburk said of racing with competition in front of her. “In the first two meets, I was the leader.”
Indeed, Funderburk beat Lakeside’s Alissa Landers by 40 seconds at the Ark-La-Tex Border Dash, hosted by the Panthers, earlier this month. In her first outing of the season, the LSU soccer commit beat her own team teammate Celeste Cordova by over a minute at the Calvary Baptist Invitational.
Funderburk credits Coach Kent Falting for her early season success that is ahead of schedule from a year ago.
“The workouts this year are harder,” Funderburk said. “An easy day last year was 4-5 miles. This year it is 6-7. The workouts are also more detailed. He has done the research to make sure that he is getting the most out of us.” One example of this is added time in the weight room, where Falting has the runners participating in the “Competitive Cauldron” – a series of planks, push-ups, and sit ups where the athletes compete to see who can do the most repetitions.
Funderburk is not the only one benefiting from tougher workouts. The Lady Panthers, ranked No. 3 in the state, are now undefeated after defeating Pearl High School 43-51.
While the intensity of the workouts has been one key to Parkway’s success this seaoson, the travel to face the best competition has made a difference for the Panthers too.
“Our goal every year is to win a state championship,” Falting said. “In order to get them ready for that, we try to expose them to the very best that Mississippi, Arkansas, and South Louisiana has to offer.” After taking a brief respite this Saturday, the Panthers will travel down I-49 to Baton Rouge where they will compete in the Catholic High School cross country meet. There, Funderburk will face First Baptist Christian of Hammond’s Gabby Jennings, who edged Funderburk for Gatorade cross country runner of the year honors in 2014. A week later, the Panthers plan to trek north to Hot Springs, Arkansas and compete with Arkansas’ best at the Lake Hamilton Cross Country Invitational, a meet in which 1,500 runners competed last year.
While Falting hated to lose boys’ 2014 state champion Hayden Kingfisher to LSU and graduation, there has been one positive to his departure. “He was so much better than everyone, that the others just came to expect that,” Falting said. “This year, I go into meets and do not really know the order of the top five.”
Seven of Parkway’s boys finished in the top 10 of the Calvary meet, led by a first-place finish by Jacob Hammons (15:59). Sophomore Cole Billiot (first, 15:29) edged out Hammons (second; 15:32) at the Ark-La-Tex Border Dash. Last Saturday, it was Billiot (sixth; 17:00.91) edging out Hammons (eighth; 17:06.30) again. The boys finished second to cross country power -Pearl High School.
Hammons is the only senior among Parkway’s top seven boys, which has Falting excited about the future of the program.
While the No. 6 Panthers are off this week to prepare for back-to-back October road trips, most local cross country teams will be hitting I-20 East Saturday morning, where they will compete in the Cedar Creek Cross Country Invitational at Lincoln Parish Park in Ruston. Varsity girls will run at 8 a.m. while the Varsity boys’ will race at 8:30 am.