Quitman Girls Draw Attention with Winning Ways

Photo by Shiela K. Haynes

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Coming off a strong 2021 season, the Quitman cross country girls are on everyone's radar these days. They upped the ante with a first-place team finish in Division 1 (Class 1A-4A) at the Gerald Richey Invitational at Lynn Creek Park at Joe Pool Lake in Grand Prairie on September 10. The team placed four runners among the top eight in the field of 100 runners.

Freshman Braleigh Wood earned silver with a time of 11 minutes, 32 seconds on the 3200-meter course. Senior Madyson Pence picked up a bronze medal 10 seconds later.

Sophomores Kendall Davis and Katie DeGorotiza finished fifth and eighth respectively. McKenna Wood rounded out the team score with a 35th place finish. 

Amanita Bautista finished 45th and Bonnie VanderSchaaf came across in 75th position.

With any number of impact reasons, it might be hard to pin down exactly what makes this Lady Bulldog crew tick. Maybe it is the senior leadership coming from Pence, a state qualifier last fall and leader on a regional team that missed a state appearance by four points. Pence is the first Quitman runner in program history to make it to Round Rock. In terms of value added, that experience on the big stage will benefit Pence and her teammates if they reach the pinnacle come November. 

Maybe it is Braleigh Wood, a freshman with both feet on the gas through every stride. 

Or maybe it is the dynamic quad of sophomores - Davis, DeGorotiza, McKenna Wood, and Bautista -- pushing the envelope in practice and in competition.

Like most of the others, Braleigh Wood came up through Quitman's outstanding junior high program. Last fall, she was winning meets and registering better times than most varsity athletes. 

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"She gets out there and takes off. She hits a high gear, and she stays there," said coach Michael Scott. 

"She doesn't back off and she has a good finish. When she gets done, she's not breathing hard. In junior high, she would finish so far ahead, no one was driving her."

It is unlikely the freshman even understands her limit at this point in her young career. In any case, she certainly has the potential for a bright future in distance running. 

Pence and Wood are the definitive leaders and that has created something of a chain reaction that elevates the entire team. 

"In practice, everybody is pushing themselves to be up on Braleigh, to beat her," said Scott. 

Each team member chases the one in front of them in turn and no one wants to disappoint. A strong bond has been formed, and the girls are clearly running for one another.

In an added glimpse of what this team can achieve, DeGorotiza was putting up the team's best times last season and led the 2021 rendition to a district title. But an injury unrelated to running put her on the sidelines for the Region 2 meet and kept her off course for six months. The sophomore has come back strong and is gradually dropping times.

"She is trying to get back to where she needs to be and she's closing it rapidly," said Scott.

Davis is coming into her own this season. She shows great effort and mental fortitude.

As it relates to that all-important fifth finisher, Scott said McKenna Wood is 30 to 40 seconds better than what she showed at Grand Prairie. The coach would have anticipated a top 20 finish for his fifth runner, but she was trapped out of the gate for the first 100 yards or so and couldn't recover the lost time.

The team will compete in the Tyler Legacy Invitational on October 1, and they will host the District 13-3A meet on October 8.