Emily Smith has been running in the top 7 for Albemarle's cross country team since she was a freshman, but she's one of the few Patriots this season with that much experience.
"I was almost dreading this year, I hate to say, because a lot of our top runners and my friends were graduating, but it's just been like better than I could have imagined," Smith says.
The Patriots finished 11th at states last year, but they graduated 18 runners, including 5 of their top 7 on varsity. Now, Smith has used her experience and taken over the leadership role in her senior season.
"It's been phenomenal having the experience and the leadership that Emily brings to the team every day, both in races and in practice," says AHS cross country coach Cathy Coffman. "For her to be that experienced and she does a great job just encouraging the kids, I mean the younger girls with a smile, you know, and very mature, you know so it's been great."
Though her team is starting over in a lot of ways, Smith says she is surrounded by promise.
"I've been like stunned. We have so much talent concentrated in 8th and 9th grade, so I think our times might not compare with those of last year, but individually there's been so much improvement and there's a lot of potential for the years to come."
Smith remembers what it was like when she was one of the younger runners. "I used to be a nervous wreck, but now I've learned to enjoy it and that's the best thing you can do."
Now, she has come to appreciate running so much that she hopes to stick with it in college. She also plays lacrosse in the spring and runs indoor track in the winter, but says cross country has been a different kind of learning experience.
"You just learn so much about yourself, and there's so much to racing. Like I would say I still don't know how to race, but you just learn and learn and learn."
Learning is another thing Smith has a lot of experience with. She has a 4.65 GPA and has never gotten a B in a class at Albemarle. Coffman is both Smith's coach and her teacher in BC Calculus, and sees that excellence on a daily basis.
"She's one of those leaders with the team who leads by example, and I think in the classroom she does the same thing," Coffman said. "She works hard, she does well, she is very purposeful when she asks questions, just like she is at a practice."
Smith has accomplished a lot in the classroom and on the course during her time at Albemarle, but she's hoping to finish out her time by setting some new personal bests, and returning to some familiar territory with her young team.
"I want to break 20 minutes for a 5K, that's definitely been my goal for a while, and as a team I would love to make it to states."