MILDRED — Circle July 29 on your Mildred athletic calendar.
That’s the day Mildred cross country coach Kari Burks told her girls they were going to the state meet.
It didn’t matter that no Mildred team had ever qualified for state in cross country, and it didn’t matter that there wasn’t a senior on the team to lead the way.
All that mattered was the Mildred kids believed Burks — and in each other
They run at state Saturday in Round Rock.
“We’re going to state,” shouted Amanda Hawkins this week at practice. And she was smiling and laughing when she shouted it.
That’s the way they feel at Mildred after making history. All seven girls are smiling one big, collective smile, and that’s what got them here.
When they arrive at Round Rock, they will arrive as one.
“We run as a team,” said Katie Silva.
That’s part of Mildred’s secret. The girls all bought into the team concept in a sport that is so demanding on the individual.
“We’re rooting for the team and rooting for each other,” Hawkins said.
They are seven running as one, and they pushed themselves and each other to get here.
Hawkins, Silva, Kadence Cline, Arianna Neason, Belle Moore, Kasey Bonner and Bailey Burks ran as a team and never let up.
They did it on their own. It wasn’t like they had a crowd and a band and cheerleaders.
“It’s not a spectator sport so nobody at school noticed us,” Hawkins said. “We had to get to state to get some recognition.”
The Lady Eagles just kept pushing themselves and each other all year. They finished second at the district meet and then ran even better to take third at the region meet, beating Eustace, the team that edged them at district.
“One of the best things about the region meet was beating Eustace,” Hawkins said. “The best was making it to state.”
Every girl on the team dropped more than a minute off their time this year and some dropped as much as two minutes.
But that was the idea back in July.
“I told them in July that you can do anything you put your mind to do,” said coach Burks. “I know these girls. They can do anything they put their mind to. I knew they could do it.”
Coach Burks entered Mildred in bigger meets against some bigger schools along the way, always trying to drive them to be their best.
Nothing was easy about the 6 a.m. practices or the long runs and the grind, but all of the girls are athletes and many play two and three sports.
And all seven are honor students with a team GPA that would impress anyone.
And on top of that these girls had something else going for them.
“They all want to win,” coach Burks said. “They are so competitive. They are such a competitive group. They hate to lose, even to each other. They want to win and they pushed themselves.”
Burks gave her kids the goal of going to state in July, and she knew it could happen on a hot day in August at Joe Pool Lake at the Texan Meet when the Mildred girls ran against much bigger schools and competed at the JV level.
“We took first place,” Burks said. “And that’s when I knew we could do it. I looked at their times and I knew that we could really go to state that day. I knew with this group it was a real possibility.”
Then they just kept pushing, running at 6 a.m. every day and running an average of 20 miles a week — and always dropping their times.
The entire group is so young that the trip to state will be priceless for their future as cross country runners.
“It’s an experience I’ll remember the rest of my life and tell my kids about it,” said Bailey Burks, who was a key member of Mildred’s playoff volleyball team this fall. She also plays basketball and softball, but all of the runners are in multiple sports.
But they all bought into the team concept and the fact no team had ever had this kind of success or the fact they were so young and inexperienced as distance runners didn’t stop them or even slow them down.
They may be the youngest varsity team at Mildred — or even in the entire Golden Circle. Burks is the lone junior and Cline and Hawkins are just sophomores. Silva, who is one of the top runners along with Hawkins, is a freshman, and Moore, Neason and Bonner are freshmen.
It’s safe to say they all grew up along the way, and are older, wiser and faster today than back on July 29 when no one doubted the coach or the team.
They’ll arrive just like that, all together with one big smile.