Cross country season ended Nov. 16 when Aaliyah Cyrus crossed the finish line at the 3A State Championships, but when Monday afternoon rolled around, she and teammate Kellie Hyde were back at the school going through warm-ups under the eyes of assistant cross country coach Devin Cornwall.
Cornwall’s contract with Culpeper County Public Schools also ended the previous Saturday, but the first-year coach had seen something in the spirit and enthusiasm of the girls that made him show up as a non-paid volunteer and work with Cyrus and Hyde as they prepared for Sturday’s running of the Foot Locker South Regional Cross Country Championships at McAlpine Park in Charlotte, N.C.
The Nationals, now in its 30th year under the Foot Locker sponsorship, grew from the Kinney Cross Country Championships, which began in 1979. Winners from the South Regional compete with winners from the Northeast, Midwest and West regionals at the Nationals, scheduled to be run Dec. 14 in San Diego.
Hyde, a freshman, and Cyrus, a sophomore, won’t be making the cross-country trip this year, though, as they have decided – with impetus from Cornwall – to run in the grades race, competing with fellow freshmen and sophomore girls from many of the southern tier states from Virginia and West Virginia to Texas and Oklahoma and all points in between, as well as Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and US military bases overseas.
Each runner represents themselves as individuals and not their respective high schools, and as of noon on Tuesday, 343 runners in Virginia had registered for one of the 11 races for ages 10 and under through high school seniors as well as open adult and Master’s races.
Cornwall is no stranger to the Foot Locker race, having run it when he was a Culpeper cross country runner back in the mid-2000s and, later on a longer course at McAlpine Park when he ran for Virginia Tech.
Cornwall finished 16th in the state as a CCHS junior, and spent the better part of his senior season ranked as the No. 1 runner in Virginia. He went on to earn ACC Freshman of the Year honors at Virginia Tech in 2006, and finished third at the ACC Championships in 2008.
Cornwall graduated from Culpeper in 2006, and Tech, four- and five-years later with a BS in Marketing (2010) and a BA in English (2011). In between his high school and college graduations, he also managed to be a four-year letterman for the Hokies as well as a two-time All-ACC cross country runner and All-SE Region of the NCAA. He also ran indoor and outdoor track for Virginia Tech.
After graduation, he spent two years working in a homeless shelter in Alamosa, Colo. as an Americorp member, and that brought him home this past summer as he contemplates the next phase in his life.
Cormwall already knew he wanted to head to California to pursue additional studies, hopefully leading to a Masters in Fine Arts with emphasis on writing. He already has written some short stories and poetry, but would also like to learn other types of writing, and the California College for the Arts in San Francisco offers a diverse program that would meet Cornwall’s dream.
“My mom called and said there was an opening for an assistant coaches’ position at my alma mater,” Cornwall said.
He would be working with head coach Kim Williams, who was Cornwall’s coach and life-long mentor in high school and has been coaching the Blue Devils for 18 seasons.
“I roped Devin into coaching this year and he’s done a fantastic job,” Williams said. “I used to run with my athletes when I was younger but can’t anymore. Devin can, and has, and every one of the 65 athletes in the program has benefited from his expertise.”
Cornwall decided the coaching gig was something he wanted to do.
“This was an opportunity for me to offer my perspective on what running has been for me, and that I could help the next generation,” Cornwall said.
As for Hyde and Cyrus, Cornwall said both girls are very coachable and talented athletes.
“Given their age and what they have already accomplished and achieved – and if they stay focused – they have the chance to put their names ahead of mine and all the others who have run for Culpeper High School in the past,” Cornwall said.
After consulting with the girls, Cornwall decided the race they entered gave them the best opportunity to compete, score well and gain confidence as well as potentially obtaining their personal record.
“McAlpine Park is a lot flatter than what the girls are used to running in this part of Virginia,” Cornwall said. “The mix of girls they will see [Saturday] will be competitive and their times will follow. There’s more than enough competition in this 5K race to push them to their limits.”
Others from the area will be racing today as well, including Julia Wood, the 1A State winner two weeks ago on the 5K Great Meadow course in The Plains. Wood, a sophomore at Rappahannock County High School, lives in Woodville.
Joining Wood will be Taylor Brown, a Remington junior (Liberty), and Helen Gilliam, of Orange. Danny Collins, of Warrenton (Liberty), will be running in the boys’ race.
Also joining them will be Warrenton’s Troy Holland, who is running in the Master’s race, and his twin 12-year-old daughters Hannah and Kira, who will be running in the girls 11-12 race.
“My girls both play age-group soccer and running is something they do off-season for conditioning,” Holland said. “They’ve run a few races in the Warrenton area and the Loudoun Street Mile, in Winchester, but the Foot Locker will be the biggest and longest race they have ever run. The youth races are 3,000 meters (1.8 miles).
“We’re doing this to see if running is something they might be interested in doing competitively as well. It’s a big deal for them.”
Want to go?
Who: CCHS So. Aaliyah Cyrus, Fr. Kellie Hyde.
What: Foot Locker South Regional Championships
When: Saturday. Girls freshman/sophomore race at 11:10 a.m.
Where: McAlphine Park, Charlotte, N.C.