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The end of Ashley Sparks’ final race came with a few scrapes and cuts.
“I fell at the end, but it was worth the bruises and cuts,” said Paradise senior. “I’m really tired but feel accomplished at the same time.”
The team bronze medal that she and her Paradise Lady Panther teammates secured helped to soothe any bumps and bruises.
In their first state appearance since 1999, Paradise took third in the Class 2A division Saturday at the University Interscholastic League cross country championships in Round Rock.
Paradise finished with 111 points. Bushland won the title with 70, beating second-place Comanche by 27 points.
Alvord brought home ninth with 204.
After capturing the District 10-2A and Class 2A Region II titles in consecutive weeks, the Lady Panthers had hoped to add a state crown.
“First would have been awesome, but it’s a big accomplishment for us to be on the podium,” Sparks said. “It’s crazy, coming from the small town of Paradise and getting third. It’s a big deal.”
Paradise coach Eddie Fortenberry agreed with Sparks.
“We wanted to win, but to get here for the first time and get a medal, we accomplished all our goals,” Fortenberry said. “The girls competed very well. It was a very successful season.”
Sparks led the Lady Panthers, completing the 3,200-meter course at Old Settlers Park in 12 minutes and 53 seconds.
“I felt really good,” Sparks said. “It was my last race, and I wanted to run like it.”
Sparks stayed around the top 20 throughout the race.
Sophomore Kaylee McConnell came in 37th in 13:09. Emily Corbin took 40th in 13:12. Emily Brinson finished 49th in 13:25. Makala Neighbors was the fifth Lady Panther, crossing the finish line in 13:30 for 55th.
Bailey Sides ran 13:45 for 69th, and Aliyah Read 14:31 for 92nd.
With only two of their seven runners from the previous year on the course, Alvord managed to garner a top-10 finish.
“I was pleased with the kids,” said Alvord coach Curtis Enis. “We ran as well as we could have this year with all we’ve been through with the injuries and tragedy.
“Replacing five of the seven from last year and to get back down here and be the ninth best in the state, that’s not bad.”
Sophomore Clara Breashears led the Lady Bulldogs, finishing 34th in 13:08.
“I did better than last year and didn’t pass out at the end,” she said.
In her final race, senior Ariel Rogers ran 13:14 to finish 41st. Savannah Williams turned in a 13:54 for 76th. Lauren Hart took 81st in 14:07. Brooklyn Mitchum was 85th in 14:12.
Sarah Nichols finished 93rd in 14:32, and Marissa Schedcik 97th in 14:40.