Westover's Taylor, Lee's Kennedy set sights on state cross country titles today

Lee County's Jacob Kennedy has a great shot to the GHSA Class AAAA state title today at the cross country championships in Carrollton.

Lee County's Jacob Kennedy has a great shot to the GHSA Class AAAA state title today at the cross country championships in Carrollton.

Westover's Ericka Taylor and Lee County's Jacob Kennedy will both make a run at history today in the GHSA state cross country meet in Carrollton, where Taylor will try to repeat as the girls Class AAA state champion, and Kennedy will attempt to become the first state champ in Lee County history in the boys Class AAAA meet.

Taylor became the second girl in Westover history to win a state cross country title last year when she pulled off a dramatic finish to overtake the leader in the final 100 meters of the race, but the story of her sequel is even more dramatic, because she almost didn't run this year.

Taylor, who is pencil-thin, had to overcome a rare injury just to compete this season, and there were times she didn't think she would be able to run -- and other times when she just couldn't run well.

"She had osteochondrama,'' Westover A.D. and cross country coach Harley Calhoun said. ''It's a bone spur on the side of her knee. It's just something she had. It affected her in track season last spring, and she had the same problem in August.''

The bone spur pinches into her muscle and creates a flow of pain that makes it almost impossible to run. Taylor tried to negotiate the pain by changing the way she ran, literally altering her movements to avoid the pain.

The result was a disaster.

"Because her leg hurt for such a long time, she got out of her mechanics,'' Calhoun said. "She looked awful. Her form was all wrong.''

No one was sure if Taylor could even compete this season, and the state title was far out of reach back in August. Then Calhoun rolled the dice.

"We took her to Glenn Hamby, a physical therapist,'' he said. "He really did a good job. He showed her exercises to help strengthen her leg and helped her with her mechanics. After seeing him for about two weeks, she started to come back. We just had to re-teach her how to run.''

Kennedy has had his own long journey, complete with an array of injuries that hampered him last year in cross country and track. But he has emerged as the fastest distance runner in the history of Lee County, and he can complete an even longer run to the top if he wins the Class AAAA title today.

"I think he has a chance,'' Lee County coach Tom Matheny said. "I've looked at times from around the state, and Jacob is right there in the top six.''

Kennedy changed his course of direction as a distance runner by doing his own research this year, reading books, running magazines and soaking up every piece of information he could get from the Internet to find a way to cure his own nagging back injury that hampered him a year ago.

Kennedy devised his own set of exercises and built a strict regimen to strengthen areas of his body -- especially his lower back -- to make himself a stronger and more durable runner. That's one reason he's enjoyed unprecedented success at Lee.

Leaving no stone unturned, Kennedy went to Carrollton two weeks ago to compete against some of the top runners in the state on the same hilly course he will run today.

He finished fourth in that race, but felt he had a bad day,'' Matheny said. "He didn't go out with them (the leaders), and he said he won't make that mistake again.''

Calhoun also believes Kennedy has a chance to win it all.

"He's run some good times this year, and I think Jacob will be right up there with them," Calhoun said.