The 2018 Catoosa-walker County Cross Country Dream Team
For the second straight year, LFO’S Erik Martinez has been named the Catoosa County Boys’ Cross Country Runner of the Year.
The senior, who will leave LFO this season holding the unofficial title of the best boys’ cross country runner to ever come through the school, kicked it into an even higher gear this fall.
Martinez’s average time was under 18 minutes this past season. Take away a 20:06 run on a very tough course in Dalton under extremely tough conditions early in the season - Martinez still finished third in the race - and his average time for the year was a sparkling 17:27.
He had a runner-up showing at the season-opening meet at Heritage and picked up five top-three finishes, including third place at the Region 6-AAA championships in Reseca, where he qualified for state for the fourth consecutive year.
Martinez credited extra training for his success this season.
“This year has been the best of all,” he said. “I came here as a freshman and started running and really just ran my sophomore and junior years without any really proper training.
“But this year was a big difference. Alan Outlaw and Michael Walker from Fast Break have been helping me since July. They have pushed me to be the best I can be and I also have to thank my coach here (at LFO), First Sergeant (Anthony) Heath for his inspirational speeches before every meet to keep me in a positive mood.”
“The practices that we did at school were just a warmup for him,” Heath said. “He’d keep running after we’d finished and he’s still running and training now. I think he was going to do anywhere from six to nine miles today in the cold. You wish you could bot- tle up his work ethic and give it to people.”
Martinez said he was honored to get this year’s award.
“Any runner that gets this type of award should be grateful, because we’ve all put in the work,” he said. “We communicate with each other as well. It can be really tough. Some days you don’t want to get out of bed, but you still have to put in the work if you want to succeed in the future. That’s how we’ve been rolling and that’s how I’ve been rolling.”
He said his most memorable moment came at this year’s state championships. Not only was his time of 17:34 (19th place) on the intense Carrollton course his all-time best at state by two seconds, he finally managed to finish ahead of friendly region rival Jesse Martinez, Murray County’s two-time region champion, who had edged out the LFO standout at meets several times in the last couple of years.
“He was ahead of me with about a half-mile to go and I knew that it was my chance,” he explained. “I had to go get him because it was probably the last time we were ever going to race against each other. It’s something I’ll never forget.”
Heath said Martinez was just an honest, hard-working kid.
“You can ask anyone here, you talk to Erik for 30 seconds and you see the type of person he is,” the coach added. “He has a personality that just comes through. He’s the epitome of what a young studentathlete should strive to be like. They should put a statue of Erik up at the school and say this is the type of student-athlete you should be.”
Martinez, who said he is hopeful of receiving a scholarship offer to run in college, said he plans to compete on the track for the Warriors later this spring.
Last season, Allison Craft made an easy transition to the world of high school cross country running, averaging 22:40 for her freshman season and finishing fifth at the Region 6-AAAA championships as she ended up splitting Catoosa County Girls’ Runner of the Year honors with two of her Heritage High senior teammates.
This season, she took full advantage of her chance in the spotlight.
Another year older and another year wiser, Craft had six top-10 finishes and five top-three finishes during the regular season, including two runner-up showings and her first 6-AAAA title as she crossed the tape in a dominating 20:48 to help the Lady Generals win the team championship.
Today, she caps her outstanding season with another Catoosa County Girls’ Runner of the Year award, but this time she has it all to herself.
“It feels really good,” she said. “I was happy to find out that I had been honored for my accomplishments and for working hard this year. It was a pretty successful year. I didn’t have my best races to start out, but I ended up having more accomplishments and getting a lot faster by the end of the season.”
Craft took a full 41 seconds off of her average time from last season as she ended up with an average of 21:59 in her sophomore year. That included a season-best 20:29 at the Front Runner Championships at Baylor.
“I put in more work over the summer than I did the year before,” she explained, estimating that she ran between 250 and 300 miles in the offseason. “I worked a lot harder during practice too.”
Head coach Jeremy Wynne said that Craft “had a really great year.”
“She was our fastest female runner this season and she was really consistent all season long, even at practice,” he said. “She’s also one of our hardest-working kids. She and (teammate) Lucy Hicks were training partners. They really pushed each other most of the season and I think they made each other better. At some point, though, Allison really just put it into another gear and just progressively got better.”
Despite her youth, Craft said she felt like she had to be a leader on a team that had quite a bit of youth.
“Knowing the competition level, it kind of helped me towards being more of a leader,” she added.
“I saw a lot of leadership skills develop in her as the year went on,” Wynne agreed. “She’s one of those kids that lead by example and it seems like the rest of her teammates follow her lead naturally. I’m looking forward to seeing that (leadership) develop even more next year.”
Craft said she has already set goals for her junior campaign.
“I’m hoping to get another region title and to do a lot better at the state meet,” she continued. “And I’d like for our team to win another region championship next year too.”
“She’s already competitive at the regional level, but we want to see her get better at the state level,” Wynne said. “We want her to be in that 19-minute range instead of the 20’s and she’s very capable of it. I think she’s a lot more capable of it than she realizes. She just has to dig deep, continue to work hard and push it a little more. But as she gets older, I think all the pieces will start to come together and she’ll become something really special.”