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by Mark Cheffey
This year’s PHS cross country program will be under the guidance of an experienced coach who knows what it takes to succeed at the demanding sport.
Nicole Harper, the wife of the new district superintendent, Jason Harper, takes over the reigns after coaching cross country at Clark County for the past 13 years where she was able to grow the program.
“When I started my first season I had four boys and one girl, so over time the program started gaining more interest and the rest is history.
Under her guidance, both the boys and girls teams earned a district title, two second place district plaques and several state qualifiers.
“I believe we qualified just over 50 athletes individually or part of a team, boys and girls combined in those 13 years,” Harper said. “We also had just over 50 academic all state qualifiers as well.”
Changing colors from red to orange was a big decision, but one Harper said she and her family have embraced.
“Our family is excited to get the opportunity to be in the Palmyra community,” Harper said. “I never would have thought that we would find our way to Palmyra, which has always been a rival in just about everything, and we always strived to beat Palmyra.
“I think that says a lot about the district.”
In the move to Palmyra, Harper was offered a teaching position, but the cross country coaching job was not available.
“I really thought my coaching days were over,” she said. “When the job became available, I jumped at the opportunity.
“I have always had respect for the Palmyra cross country program in the past and had a great relationship with their former coach. We had mutual respect for each other’s programs which made both of our programs stronger. I want to bring back the excitement for the program.”
Harper inherits a small group this year, with seven boys and four girls, but there is some experience to work with, thanks to returning seniors, Connor Bross, Owen Kiefaber, Tiffany Neff and Aly Noland, and three juniors, Jacob Barnes, Carter Harper and Daniel Reid, joined by four freshmen, Lillian Crammlett, Ashton Lovegreen, Maiya Reese and Wesley Summers.
“I will be looking for my seniors to be the leaders on the course,” Harper said. “I have the same expectations for all of my runners to compete at every practice.
“We have talented runners to train with every day and we need to take advantage of this opportunity to make our team better.
“The seniors and juniors are seasoned and will be the heart and soul of our team. The freshmen will get a chance to adjust to the increase in distance and the level of competition to prepare them for next season.
“We will be depending on our freshmen to step up and give our team a competitive edge.”
Harper played volleyball and track in high school and didn’t pick up cross country until she was in college.
“At first, I was not that excited about it, but when I got to Western Illinois University I absolutely loved it,” Harper said. “I had amazing teammates and an awesome coach who made me feel like I was important to the team.
“I will never forget how that helped me throughout my life, and I wanted to pay it forward to the kids who I have been able to coach.”
Her guiding principle as coach is to help those who go out for cross country find their niche.
“My philosophy is that I want my kids to be a part of something that makes them feel appreciated,” Harper said. “Kids need to be involved in something that they can take pride in. I want them to learn responsibility, accountability, perseverance and grit.
“If kids feel that they are respected and can trust you, then they buy into the program.
“I want my kids to feel like they can get through anything that life throws at them by the end of their senior year.
“I love running and have always wanted to pass that love on to my athletes. I also want them to remember the relationships that they have made with their teammates, other teams and myself.”
Assisting Harper this year is Nichole Hirner.
Palmyra opens the season Friday, Sept. 2, at the Mexico Invitational before hosting the Palmyra Invitational Saturday, Sept. 10, in Flower City Park.
Palmyra will compete in Class 3, District 3 along with Blair Oaks, Bowling Green, Centralia, Father Tolton Regional Catholic, Fatima, Fulton, Hallsville, MICDS, Montgomery County, Normandy Collaborative, North Callaway, Orchard Farm, Owensville, Priory, Southern Boone, St. Charles West, St. Clair, STEAM Academy at McCluer South-Berkeley, Whitfield, Winfield and Wright City.
2022 Palmyra High School Cross Country Schedule
9/2 at Mexico Invitational
9/10 Palmyra Invitational
10/3 CCC Meet 4 p.m.
10/8 at Marion Co. Invite.
10/10 atClop.Hamburger Meet
10/21 at Bowling Green
2022 Palmyra Middle School Cross Country Schedule
9/10 Palmyra Invitational
9/29 at Bowling Green
10/3 CCC Meet (Cent.) 4 p.m.
10/8 at Marion County
10/11 at Centralia Invitational