The 2023 MHSAA Cross Country Championships at Choctaw Trails brought together Mississippi's best high school runners in a thrilling display of competition.
The event was marked by several awe-inspiring performances, with athletes pushing past their limits to set new personal bests, clinch titles, and create moments that will linger in the state's history.
From the staggering solo runs to the nail-biting finishes, this year's meet highlighted the passion and growth of the sport in our state as Mississippi Cross Country continues to be elevated each and every year.
Race of the day
Winner: MHSAA 7A Boys
In a historic showdown at the inaugural MHSAA 7A Cross Country Championship, an epic battle unfolded, promising to etch its name in the annals of Mississippi's running history. The event witnessed a star-studded assembly of athletes, making the MHSAA 7A Boys Race not only a quest for the 7A title but a contest to determine the best runner in the state.
From the beginning, it was evident that victory was within anyone's reach. The lead pack featured standout athletes like Bailey Kosko, Graham Weiss, and reigning MHSAA 6A Cross Country champion Jaquavion Bryant. At the race's halfway point, Pearl's Tanner Moore, the 2023 MHSAA 6A 800m and 1600m Champion, executed a bold push that compelled the rest of the contenders to follow.
As the race reached its last mile, the field had narrowed down, and the fierce competition was evident as Bryant, Andrew Brown, and Taylor Brown emerged as the top contenders for the coveted 7A title. With just 1,000 meters to go, Bryant unleashed a decisive burst of speed that left the Brown brothers unable to keep up. Bryant's indomitable determination propelled him to victory, clocking the day's fastest time at an impressive 15:42, while Andrew and Taylor Brown and Pearl's Farren Oberto secured the only other sub-16 performances of the day.
To underscore the remarkable nature of this race, one need only glance at the combined results. An astounding 17 out of the top 20 performances in the entire MHSAA Cross Country Championships came from the 7A Boys Race. Not only were the individual results impressive, but the team race brought even more impressive performances. Out of the top ten fastest team averages of the day, eight of them came from the 7A Boys Race. The cumulation of these individual and team results cement the MHSAA 7A Boys Race as the day's most fiercely competitive and memorable event.
Individual performance of the day
Jack Hewes - MHSAA 3A Boys
Ally Murphy - MHSAA 1A Girls
Austin Winstead - MHSAA 4A Boys
Kaitlyn Burge - MHSAA 7A Girls
Brodie Moore - MHSAA 1A Boys
Winner: Jack Hewes - MHSAA 3A Boys
Amidst the competitive atmosphere at the 2023 MHSAA Cross Country Championships, one athlete stood out with a performance that redefined dominance. Saint Patrick Senior Jack Hewes turned the MHSAA 3A boys' race into a one-man show, stopping the clock at a remarkable 16:02 for the tough 5K course at Choctaw Trails.
Hewes, leaving no question unanswered about his elite status in Mississippi high school boys' distance running, outpaced his closest competitor by an astounding 42 seconds. This winning margin not only put him in the spotlight for the 'Individual Performance of the Day' but also tied for the largest winning margin across all classifications, matching West Union's Brodie Moore.
A seasoned veteran, Hewes' near-personal-best time was just eight seconds shy of his lifetime best of 15:54, demonstrating his consistent top-tier performance. In addition, Hewes' performance placed him as the fifth-fastest runner of the championship and the quickest outside the powerhouse MHSAA 7A classification.
Moreover, Hewes' leadership shone as bright as his individual accolades. He spearheaded the Saint Patrick boys' team to a landslide victory, amassing a mere 18 points to secure the MHSAA 3A Boys team title. The team's performance, much like their leader's, was nothing short of dominant, showcasing their depth and rising talent.
Hewes' day at the championships solidified his reputation as a formidable force in Mississippi high school boys' cross country. His performance at the MHSAA Championships was not just a victory lap but a statement run that underlined his status as one of the premier athletes in the sport at the high school level. With his fourth overall title in hand, Hewes steps off the grass of Choctaw Trails with potentially more titles set in his sights.
Team performance of the day
St. Andrews Episcopal - MHSAA 2A Girls & Boys
Pearl High School - MHSAA 7A Boys
Tupelo High School - MHSAA 7A Girls
St. Patrick Catholic - MHSAA 3A Boys
Corinth High School - MHSAA 5A Girls & Boys
Winner: Pearl High School
Solidifying their legacy as the top boys' cross country team to grace the Choctaw Trails, the Pearl High School Pirates clinched the first-ever MHSAA 7A Boys State Championships title, forever imprinting their names in Mississippi running history.
A testament to the unparalleled success of the Pearl team's season was their remarkable feat of placing all seven of their runners within the top twenty and achieved a staggering 49-second 1-5 split. What's more, they achieved this while boasting the day's fastest individual performance, achieved by Jaquavion Bryant. With a commanding team average of 16:12, they stand as the fastest team ever to grace the MHSAA State Championships meet. The synergy between their individual and team efforts leaves no room for doubt: no other team even comes close to the extraordinary dominance of this remarkable squad.
Beyond their MHSAA Championship performance, they previously set a historic milestone by establishing the fastest team average in Mississippi boys' cross-country history, registering an astonishing 15:54 average at the Jesse Owens Classic. The culmination of their historic season and their commanding display at the MHSAA Championships not only marks it as the paramount performance of the 2023 MHSAA Championships but potentially positions it as the most extraordinary performance by a Mississippi team to date.
Execution of the day
Parker Shannon - MHSAA 6A Boys
Emma Ruffin - MHSAA 4A Girls
JaQuavion Bryant - MHSAA 7A Boys
Zachary Josiah Nobles - MHSAA 5A Boys
Winner: Emma Ruffin - MHSAA 4A Girls
Emerging victorious in one of the tightest races of the day, Emma Ruffin of Caledonia High School delivered an extraordinary performance, a testament to her unwavering determination and resilience. With this triumph, she clinched her first-ever class title and spearheaded her team to an impressive second-place finish in the overall standings.
For the entire first half of the race, Ruffin remained absent from the lead pack, trailing behind and seemingly out of contention right from the start. Yet, as the race entered its final mile, she executed a dramatic change of pace, shifting into a higher gear that caught her rivals off guard. Methodically, she began overtaking her fellow runners, eventually closing the gap on Macy Bain from South Pontotoc High School, the frontrunner who had set the pace since the start of the race.
It was in the moments just prior to the last hairpin turn that Ruffin made her decisive move, unleashing a final, dominating surge that ultimately earned her the coveted MHSAA 4A Girls State title. Ruffin's remarkable ability to bide her time behind the pack for more than half of the race, and then summon the courage to launch a winning effort, exemplifies brilliant race strategy and impeccable execution.
Individual Upset of the day
Winner: Emily Avent
In an unexpected twist at the MHSAA 3A Cross Country Championships, East Webster's own Emily Avent defied the odds and emerged as the champion, delivering the upset of the day. Avent's triumph over a field of seasoned high school athletes was nothing short of cinematic, as she crossed the finish line with a lifetime best of 20:27.2, shattering her previous record by over half a minute.
Avent's victory was a remarkable leap from her recent performance at the MHSAA Middle School Classic, where she placed second in a nail-biting finish against Eupora's Mary White, who finished an impressive runner-up in the MHSAA 3A girls championship race. Despite her runner-up finish at that event, Avent's determination was undeterred. She entered the championship race with a strategy poised for success and executed it flawlessly, finishing a full 15 seconds ahead of the competition.
The young athlete's ability to elevate her performance under championship pressure highlights not just a burgeoning talent but a competitive maturity well beyond her years.
With this title win, Avent has not only capped off her season with a stunning achievement but has also marked herself as a rising star in Mississippi's cross-country scene.
Team Upset of the Day
Winner: West Lauderdale - MHSAA 4A Boys
In a thrilling underdog triumph, West Lauderdale High School narrowly held off a fierce challenge from Senatobia High School to claim the MHSAA 4A Boys team championship. With both Choctaw Central and Senatobia High School displaying impressive team prowess throughout the season, the battle for the 4A Boys team title became an intense struggle for the tenacious West Lauderdale squad.
Heading into the MHSAA 4A Boys race, West Lauderdale found themselves boasting the slowest team average among the three contenders in the running for the title. The odds were stacked against them, and they knew that the key to success was having all of their runners synchronize their performances on the same day.
And synchronize they did. Under the dynamic leadership of Foster Windham, who achieved an unprecedented 30-second personal record that day, they managed to achieve their fastest team average of the entire season.
While West Lauderdale could only secure a single top-ten individual finish, their unwavering teamwork shone brightly as they placed six of their athletes within the top twenty, all clocking times separated by mere seconds. This display of indomitable teamwork, coupled with the courageous running of the West Lauderdale squad ultimately propelled them to the well-deserved MHSAA 4A Boys team title.
Kick of the Day
Winner: Gauge Montgomery
In an outright thriller in one of the closest races of the championships, Loyd Star's Gauge Montgomery clinched the MHSAA 2A Boys title with a phenomenal final kick, sealing a victory that will be remembered for years to come. The junior's performance was a masterful display of racing awareness and execution, culminating in a lifetime best of 17:09.3.
For most of the race, it was St. Andrew's William Skelton who took the leading duties, setting a grueling pace that had the lead pack pushing their limits. As the runners approached the final 800 meters, tension mounted with Montgomery, Skelton, and New Site's Payden Taylor all vying for the win.
Then came Montgomery's kick. With 400 meters remaining, the Loyd Star junior tapped into one final gear and laid down the gauntlet. It was this decisive move that earned him a six-second margin of victory and his first-ever class title.
All race winners
Girls Individual - Ally Murphy (Myrtle Attendance Center) | 19:55.0
Girls Team - Myrtle Attendance Center | 39 points, 22:19 5K avg
Boys Individual - Brodie Moore (West Union Attendance Center) | 16:38.3
Boys Team - West Union Attendance Center | 49 points, 18:19 5K avg
Girls Individual - India Mitchell (St. Andrew's Episcopal School) | 20:02.1
Girls Team - St. Andrew's Episcopal School | 19 points, 20:43 5K avg
Boys Individual - Gauge Montgomery (Loyd Star School) | 17:09.3
Boys Team - St. Andrew's Episcopal School | 33 points, 18:27 5K avg
Girls Individual - Emily Avent (East Webster High School) | 20:27.2
Girls Team - Kossuth High School | 36 points, 21:337 5K avg
Boys Individual - Jack Hewes (Saint Patrick Catholic High School) | 16:02.2
Boys Team - Saint Patrick Catholic High School | 18 points, 17:16 5K avg
Girls Individual - Emma Ruffin (Caledonia High School) | 20:08.1
Girls Team - South Pontotoc High School | 81 points, 22:32 5K avg
Boys Individual - Austin Winstead (Senatobia High School) | 17:23.6
Boys Team - West Lauderdale High School | 73 points, 18:21 5K avg
Girls Individual - Elsie Wilbanks (Corinth High School) | 20:12.8
Girls Team - Corinth High School | 26 points, 21:34 5K avg
Boys Individual - Zachary Josiah Nobles (South Jones High School) | 16:59.6
Boys Team - Corinth High School | 21 points, 17:31 5K avg
Girls Individual - Maine Lund (South Panola High School) | 20:58.9
Girls Team - Saltillo High School | 32 points, 22:27 5K avg
Boys Individual - Parker Shannon (Saltillo High School) | 16:33.8
Boys Team - Saltillo High School | 47 points, 17:56 5K avg
Girls Individual - Kaitlyn Burge (Hernando High School) | 18:13.4
Girls Team - Tupelo High School | 19:54 5K avg, 46 points
Boys Individual - JaQuavion Bryant (Pearl High School) | 15:41.9
Boys Team - Pearl High School | 41 points, 16:12 5K avg
St. Andrew's Episcopal - MHSAA 2A
Corinth High School - MHSAA 5A
Saltillo High School - MHSAA 6A
West Union Attendance Center - MHSAA 1A Boys
Myrtle Attendance Center - MHSAA 1A Girls
St. Andrew's Episcopal School - MHSAA 2A Girls
Saint Patrick Catholic High School - MHSAA 3A Boys
Corinth High School - MHSAA 5A Girls
Saltillo High School - MHSAA 6A Boys
Pearl High School - MHSAA 7A Boys