The first step on the climb was qualifying for regionals, then earning a district championship. Now the Brownwood High cross country program, under the direction of head coach Don Hood, can add its first team state qualifier to its list of accomplishments.

Joining junior Dylan Person — who will run as a medalist at the UIL Class 3A cross country state meet following his second-place individual effort at the Region I-3A meet — will be the entire Brownwood Lady Lions squad, marking a first in school history.

“It’s great for these girls,” Hood said. “There are very few places you can go now days and be the first team to ever do something. For the rest of their lives they can say they were the first. That says a lot about their determination and the commitment they’ve put into this. It’s going to make it really sweet to see how they finish.

“On the flip side, you don’t want to bomb at state. They’ve got one more race to go and they’re going to have to put out a great effort, but they’ve really been troopers.”

Hood is also excited about Person’s chances of placing near the top of the standings in the boys race. Person is the second Lion to reach state in as many years, following Cameron McLaughlin last season.

Person, who finished second at the District 8-3A meet, matched his place and bettered his time at regionals last week. Person posted a 16:11.49 in Lubbock, one of the best times of his career and a considerable improvement over the 16:38 he ran at Lampasas the week prior.

“I can’t wait to see what Dylan does. He’s rolling right now,” Hood said. “He’s got a chance to medal and be in the top 10. If he can do that, especially being a junior, I think that will light a fire.

“Another great thing about Dylan is that he’s shown everybody if you do what we’re asking you to that you can be good. This is a sport that, if you’re just committed to it, you can become really good at it. Dylan’s been a great example that way and I think he believes he deserves a medal. If you have that type of attitude coming in, the sky’s the limit.”

The Lady Lions were unable to contain their excitement about the historic journey they’re making.

“It’s awesome to know that we made history for Brownwood,” said Katy Jacobs. “All of us have put in a whole lot of work, the entire team. We’ve been coming in since the beginning of the summer and have run two or three times a day. To put in that many miles has really helped and Coach Hood has us going college level workouts, so that’s really helped us step up this year.”

Added Victoria Hood, “It’s amazing. We’ve worked really hard and it’s good to know that all the hard work was worth it. Going into regionals we knew we had a shot, but about six teams had a chance. During the awards they had a few teams that had two runners in the top 20 and we didn’t, so we were really nervous. But we were really happy when they called our name.”

At regionals, all seven Lady Lions finished within 50 seconds of one another. Julianne Hood led the way with a 17th place time of 12:35.55 trailed by Tori Burkett in 20th place at 12:41.88, Victoria Hood in 23rd place at 12:49.96, Jacobs in 26th place at 12:50.94, Jessica Romero in 40th place at 13:02.13, Ashley Strong in 43rd place at 13:09.98 and Alex Bernal in 58th place with a time of 13:24.78.

Coach Hood attributes the Lady Lions’ tireless work ethic to their success.

“They’re just committed,” Hood said. “We’ve got some bulldogs that work and work, and other kids who don’t work quite as hard but are talented and have tremendous natural ability. That’s a great combination and to have seven, eight, nine of those at the same school on the same team, that doesn’t happen very often.”

The Lady Lions are ranked eighth among the 16 state qualifiers going into the meet, but finishing in the top six is Coach Hood’s goal.

“I’d like to see us finish in the top half,” Hood said. “There’s 12 teams and to be in the top six would be a great accomplishment. We’re ranked eighth coming in, so that’d be stepping up a little bit, but I think we’re capable.”

Jacobs echoed the sentiments of her head coach.

“We’re really just happy to be at state,” Jacobs said. “Performance wise, everyone wants to get a personal record or run their best time, but if we finished in the top six we’d all be pretty happy.”