It was just a passing thought in previous years. This season, however, the Reynolds girls cross country team finally had a discussion.
That happened at a team meeting in May, according to Coach Meghan Sticker. The Demons wanted to know if qualifying for the NCHSAA Class 4-A state championship meet was in the cards — finally.
"We said, 'What is our team goal?' We want to make it to states," Sticker said, recalling that meeting. "We looked at if it was possible, and we kind of laid out what it would look like if we were to make it to states. Kids have to practice every day. You have to get your runs in — even when you're out of town over the summer. You have to run your long runs fast.
"You have to be committed."
A goal will come to fruition Saturday, ending an 11-year drought. Reynolds girls cross country, which last qualified for the state championship in 2008, is set to appear at Ivey M. Redmon Sports Complex to race in the NCHSAA Class 4-A championship meet.
The boys team, which finished third with 108 points at the Class 4-A Midwest Regional at the Redmon complex on Nov. 2, is appearing in the state championship for the fourth straight season under Coach David Wainwright. However, this season marks the first year that both the Demons' boys and girls teams will appear in the championship together since 2000.
"All of us coaches believed that we could do it," said Sticker, who is in her fourth season coaching the girls team. "And I knew, if there was ever a team to go to states, it was this group."
Sticker said the ball started rolling in that meeting, when she and captains Mary Brown, Katie Nicholls and Jessica Mata along with four other seniors pulled out a calendar and began mapping their plan for success. It ultimately led to the Demons placing fourth at the Midwest Regional with 116 points; freshman Caroline Echols finished third at the regional meet, crossing the line in 19:24.15.
Reynolds finished third behind West Forsyth and Reagan on Oct. 23 at the Central Piedmont 4-A championship meet. According to Sticker, that was the first time Reynolds had all of its top runners available. Until that point, runners for the Demons had been either sick, injured or out of town.
Stricker said part of the team's success this season has stemmed from strong leadership from the team captains — including Brown. But Brown, who has run at Reynolds since she was a freshman in 2016, nearly quit cross country.
She's dealt with a long-standing calf injury since sophomore year and had shin splints as a junior. Brown said she considered leaving the team roughly midway through the 2018 season. But she stuck it out for a final season — even staying after practices this year to help plan team workouts.
"It's just so rewarding," Brown said. "It really is because I was so close to quitting. And the fact that I didn't, and we ended up making states is just awesome.
"We had a lot of new girls join this year, who haven't run before. And they've turn out to be superstars."
Echols is one of those new additions, though not completely new to cross country. That began when she was a seventh-grader at Wiley Middle School in 2017.
Echols, one of just two freshmen along with Doherty who will compete at the state meet, recorded her best time at the Wendy's Invitational at McAlpine Park in Charlotte. She clocked in at 19:14.20 to place 18th.
She's come a long way since the first meet of the season. At the Forsyth County Championships on Aug. 28, Echols finished seventh at 19:33.12.
"I think I've dropped a lot of time from the first meet, which is really good," Echols said. "I'm pretty happy with my time drops, so far."
That's been a common theme for the Demons' boys team as well. According to Wainwright, his runners improved this year despite missing four returning standouts — Jack Holbrook is on the soccer team, and Jeff Echols is on the swim team. Will Gardner and Bo Dalrymple were injured.
Reynolds finished second behind West Forsyth at the conference championship — the Titans second consecutive conference championship. The Demons were led that day by Harrison Hickman, who finished third overall at the meet.
Wainwright said the conference championship meet highlighted the team's dedication.
"Distance running is such a slow build. You're slow to get in shape. There's not get-rich-quick in distance running," said Wainwright, now in his fourth season coaching the team. "So the gains we're seeing right now are a result of a lot of hard work, patiently and consistently.
"You can't ask for a better dial-in than that."