'BETTER AND BETTER': Tigers keep improving as season comes to a close

Sep. 19—As the cross country season comes to a close, Tahlequah Tigers' coaches David Spears and Elzy Miller are still looking for improvements from their team.

"One word: improvement, we have not reached our goal yet, but we are getting better and better each week," Spears said on what he is looking for from the Tigers.

With less than a month until the post-season, the Tigers are gearing up for the toughest stretch of the year. This weekend they will participate in the Pre-State Meet at Edmond Santa Fe High School where they will face some of the best competition from Oklahoma.

Despite the daunting task, the Tigers are ready after their latest showing in Joplin, Missouri at the Missouri Southern Stampede.

At the Missouri Southern Stampede, the Tigers' top runners continued their strong season. Trae Baker led the way with a fourth-place finish racking up a time of 15:27. On the girl's side, McKenna Hood led the Tigers with a time of 19:15 good for 19th place. Miller said that was Hood's best time "by far."

The duo's finish gave the Tigers a pair of medalists.

"First time we have had two medalists in a long time," Miller said. "That was probably the best meet we will see all year. We are happy, we had a number of freshmen in that group, and our two leaders ran well, so we are ready for pre-state."

Baker's fourth-place finish continues a strong season from the season that has seen him finish in the top five, time and time again.

"He tries and gets better every day his leadership is unparalleled he doesn't have to say a lot," Spears said. "He is a great team leader, he just has a strong work ethic and everyone follows what he does."

Spears went on to compare Baker to one of the best athletes in America.

"It is what you want, it is like he is the quarterback," Spears said. "It is like having Tom Brady on your team, he is a mature young man who has a never-say-die and never quit attitude about him it is great to see."

Spears has started to see the leadership pay off for the Tigers. Jacob Tiger finished the Missouri Southern Stampede with a time of 16:31 for 52. Taven Neal and Jalen Hooper added a 17:38 and 17:44 respectively to round out the top four finishers on the boys' side.

"I think it is the work ethic and the consistency that is starting to come through," Spears said. "I believe in them and they need to believe in themselves. Trust yourself, trust your body, and trust your coaching and it all comes together."

On the girls' side, Hood was followed by Tori Pham with a time of 20:50. Ashely Ledesma added a time of 23:25, while Julianne Burnes added a 23:31 for the girls' top four. Josaline Hernandez — the Tigers' normal No. 3 — finished fifth after an injury hampered her time.

The next two weeks will be tough for the Tigers. After they wrap up Pre-State, they will hit the road for the Chili Pepper Invite in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

"Just keep improving every day, take every rep seriously. Have the team and goals on your mind," Spears said. "When you are running that slide show across your mind think about how you have a special team that can do a lot if they get it back together. I am proud of how they have matured and have gotten better as a team and individuals."

Recently the Tigers found out that they would hold the Metro Lakes Conference Meet on Tuesday, Oct. 10 at Tahlequah High School. Getting to host the conference at home is a huge plus in Spears' eyes.

"It is like anything else, it is your home where you practice, there is a lot of pride that goes into it," Spears said. "There is also the knowledge of knowing the course. You also do not have to travel, having that added comfort of having it in your backyard."

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