POPE COUNTY – There were some outstanding cross country runners this fall – Olivia Phillips from Du Quoin, Brodie Denny from Anna-Jonesboro, Maddie Karcher from Hamilton County, Vanessa Teel from Pinckneyville, Molly Robertson from Carterville and Miah Gilmore from Murphysboro, to name a few.
But the best runner day in and day out was Pope County second student Ahry Comer.
For her efforts, Ahry is the Southern Cross Country Runner of the Year.
Comer’s accolades are breathtaking:
- Seventh best runner in the state for Class 1A with a time of 17 minutes, 54.79 seconds
- Section champion Trenton-Wesclin
- Carterville Regional Champion
- Champion of the Great Egyptian Conference
- AJ guest champion
- Murphysboro Guest Champion
- Hamilton County Guest Champion
- Mr. A. Classic in Benton Champion
- Guest champion of Trenton-Wesclin
- School record holder with a time of 16:58
“Ahry is so fascinating for me to watch them run,” said Pope County Pirates coach James Forthman. “I’m just trying to get away from her.
Forthman said there is planning or strategy ahead of each competition, pointing out that Comer’s mother Holly and stepfather Eddie Mayhall were also part of the race preparation. But at the end of the day, it’s up to Comer to decide when to pick up the pace and when to step back a bit.
“It was my seventh year as a cross country coach,” said Forthman. “And I can say Ahry is in a different league than most of the other runners. She has a different engine. She’s the type who’d rather run ’til her heart explodes than lose. She’s got a big one. passion for racing and his goal is to win the state. “
Forthman added that he had tried to improve the schedule in order to help Comer gain recognition as a top contender.
“That’s the idea,” he said. “In a little over two years, Ahry will be running at the college level. Right now, his times are consistently around 17 minutes, which many schools like. She will definitely get a scholarship. And if she starts wasting that time in the 16s, I can see her going to a big school to compete. “
Comer was state champion two years ago in junior high in the small schools category. She then missed the regional and sectional championship race last year as a freshman after a freak car crash damaged one of her legs.
“She almost lost her foot, but luckily everything went well, and although Ahry was only able to start training last June, she was able to make a full recovery,” said Forthman. “She used that downtime as motivation for last season. Imagine what she could have done if she had had a full year to train.”
Comer was touched by the news of her award.
“I wasn’t expecting something like this – at least not this year,” said the runner-up. “It turned out to be a good year and I’m really happy with everything I was able to accomplish. The work I put in last summer paid off and I just hope I can do too good or better next year. “
Comer said she likes to challenge herself to perform better every time she meets.
“If I see someone in front of me or next to me in a race, I want to push myself. I know when it’s time to go strong to win. What was great about state competition was is that I had never competed against so many great riders before. It was really an eye-opening experience. And the crowd was great. I had never seen so many people meet at a cross country before. It was special. “
Comer said that placing seventh overall was nice, but unacceptable to her.
“I’ve never been beaten in a race before, so now I know how much more work it takes for me to win the race next time,” she said.
Comer also pointed out that she has made many new friends through the competition.
“It’s one of the best parts of running,” she said. “I got to know so many girls. I love to make new friends.”
The County Pope native is also more than a one-ride pony. Comer plays three other sports, including volleyball, basketball and softball.
“She’s my point guard in basketball, and a good one,” Forthman said.
“I love basketball, but cross country is definitely my favorite sport,” Comer said.
An active straight student in the Student Council, FBLA, FCA, science and art clubs, Comer said she couldn’t help but look to the future every now and then.
“I think about college a lot. North Carolina and LSU are two schools that I like. But I know that in order to be successful at a great school, I know that I will have to work a lot harder both as a runner and in the classroom. “