The Valdosta Daily Times
When thinking of the tradition of athletic excellence at Lowndes High School, football would be the first sport to come to the minds of nearly every South Georgia citizen, but on Oct. 31, the seniors of the Lowndes High Cross-Country Team’s varsity girls added a legacy of their own by capturing their fourth consecutive Region 1-AAAAAA Championship.
Alison Peters, Ashley Powell, Jacki Pinkerton, and Josie Mazurkiewicz — second, third, fourth, and eighth place at the region meet, respectively — make up the senior class that will leave Lowndes having made a trip to Carrollton for the state championships each of their four years.
The girls are just as close off the course as they finished on it last week.
“We’ve all become pretty close on and off the course, said Powell. “It’s just been fun because we always get to do stuff together.”
Peters, Powell, and Mazurkiewicz have been running cross-country since the three of them attended middle school at St. John’s. The girls transferred to Lowndes at the beginning of high school, that’s where they joined Pinkerton, and the rest is history.
“I think we got lucky with the group we got,” said Peters. “We came in and it was not as successful of a program, but the sophomores stepped up when we were freshmen, and we stepped up, and together we built this.”
Together has been the keyword for the Vikettes. Despite the appearance of an individual sport, the seniors cite their teamwork as a difference-maker during competitions.
“Since we’ve all been running for a long time, it’s more about us doing well as a whole and not just individually,” said Powell. “While some teams come in and meet in ninth grade, they just want to be fastest. It’s a team sport.”
All four girls push each other to run harder, and on a day when that isn’t possible, someone else steps up to accomplish the team’s goal.
The girls echoed that sentiment.
“It definitely keeps us close,” said Mazurkiewicz. “We know when the other is having a bad day, or not feeling like running that day, or if they’re having a really good day. So we can play off each other’s emotions and make the best of them. We expect the best out of each of us.”
Pinkerton said, “It’s really good running as a team. They give you strength and motivation. If you mess up, you feel bad. You don’t want to let your team down, so you try harder."
Pinkerton’s freshman year is a perfect example of how effective the support of teammates can be.
After running track in middle school, Pinkerton decided to tryout for cross-country as a freshman. At the beginning of the year, Pinkerton had a time of 30 minutes, but by the end of the year, Pinkerton had cut more than eight minutes from her time, down to 22 minutes.
Despite the good feelings and region titles accumulated in the seniors’ four years at Lowndes, there is one accolade the girls still hope to capture - a state championship.
The state championship race is a 5K held in Carrollton which features about 250 competitors beginning in a big, spacious field before being funneled into a tunnel.
Runners have to traverse the cold conditions and a hill-filled terrain in an ultra-competitve race.
Lowndes hasn’t succeeded at state in recent years — the team didn’t even stay to hear where they placed in 2009 — but they have reason to believe this year will be different.
“I think we just know what we’re getting into,” said Peters.
Pinkerton said, “We’re not scared anymore. It's more like, ‘oh my gosh, we’re going to state, we’re so happy.’ We know what we’re headed for. We know what’s coming.”
This year a familiar face on the coaching staff has made a difference, Mazurkiewicz’s mother, Martha, became the coach of Lowndes’ cross-country team.
Martha coached Peters, Powell, and Mazurkiewicz at St. John’s before joining the girls at Lowndes for their senior year.
“She’s really good at encouraging me,” said Mazurkiewicz. “I think with a different coach I would have performed differently, without that extra encouragement I get at home.”
Under Martha’s tutelage for the first time, Pinkerton has noticed the effect a trusting coach.
“Sometimes I have a hard time depending on my coaches,” said Pinkerton. “Coach (Martha) Maz, this was her first time coaching me and I depended on her pretty well.”
Martha’s training program was a big factor in the success of the girls this season.
“The strong training program gets you there,” said Powell. “You can have good runners or poor runners, but it's ultimately the training program that will get them where they need to be. Without our coaches, we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere.”
At this point, Mazurkiewicz said this will be her final year of running on a team after running cross-country for nearly a decade, but the other three members of the Vikettes senior quartet plan to continue on the collegiate level.
Peters, Pinkerton, and Powell want to run on the next level, but they have yet to make a decision where. The trio is trying to find the perfect mixture of cross-country and athletics.
“It’s either pick a big school with brains or pick a smaller school with running,” said Powell.
And true to a Lowndes County grad, football matters.
“We’re all big football fans, so that plays into it, too,” added Powell.
Both the Lowndes Boys and Girls Cross-Country varsity teams will travel to compete at the GHSA State Meet in Carrollton on Nov 9. You can view events on demand after the event for free. Go to: NFHSNetwork.com/GHSA.