Oak Mountain cross-country looking to turn the corner in 2015

By BAKER ELLIS / Sports Editor

The Birmingham area schools are really good at running fast. In track and in cross-country, most meets usually end with a Birmingham area team on top. No one knows this better than Kyle Dudley, the head coach of the boys and girls cross-country teams at Oak Mountain High School. Dudley is entering into his fourth year as the head coach of both Eagles teams, and is all too familiar with the strength and depth of teams in the local area.

Oak Mountain competes in 7A Section 3, alongside Mountain Brook, Hoover, Vestavia, Spain Park, Hewitt-Trussville, Thompson and Vestavia.

“It’s the section of death,” Dudley said. “It’s a very, very good section. I would say on a year-in-year-out basis, you’re going to have at least five, sometimes seven of the top 10 teams (in 7A).”

Under the current AHSAA format, only three teams from each section can advance to the state meet, which is not a format Dudley thinks lends itself to producing an accurate or fair representation of the best teams in the state.

“There’s a wild card system for individuals to go (to state), but the system could be better,” he said. “The sport is very much emerging, people are working to come up with something better.”

Last season, the boys team found itself on the outside looking in, finishing fourth in the section, despite having two of the top three finishers at the meet on their team. This season, Dudley thinks his boys team has the talent to not only compete for a Section 3 title, but a state title as well.

“We have learned last year that you have to have a great day at sectionals,” Dudley said. “That’s just the nature of our section. We have to be ready for that specific day. Potential-wise, we have the potential to get our scoring five all under 17 minutes. We absolutely want to not only make state but challenge for a state title, that’s where we are talent wise.”

Leading the way for the boys will be Cole Stidfole and Caleb Van Geffen, a pair of juniors who have a special set of wheels. Stidfole’s personal best in the 5K is a 15:53, which will put him in contention to be the overall state winner this season, while Van Geffen has run a 16:15. Sean Drummond, a senior, has run a 16:36 and will play a large role in this year’s season as well.

The girls team is young, but talented. The Lady Eagles will be led by freshman Nicole Payne the defending 7A 400-meter champion in track and field, who Dudley said is one of the most gifted athletes he’s ever coached.

“She’s one of those very gifted athletes who could run anything from the 200-meters to the 5K,” he said. “You don’t get to coach athletes that gifted very often.”

Payne placed second in last year’s section meet, beating the third place finisher by over 12 seconds. She will be joined at the top of the Oak Mountain rotation by Evie Bell, who will only be an eighth grader, and sophomore classmates Mallory Staubach and Anna Beth Ivey.

Both teams will start the season on Aug. 28 at the University of Montevallo.