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Cross Country: Former sprinter Wiggins leads Rowan girls

By Mike London
mike.london@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — When Rowan County Cross Country Runner of the Year Taylor Wiggins reported for duty with the Carson girls track team as a freshman she was convinced she was a sprinter.
Tiny, about 5 feet tall, Wiggins had made the varsity basketball team as a freshman. She certainly looked like she’d be able to scoot in the 100. Track coach Les-Lee Efird quickly put her to work in the blocks.
“Yeah, big mistake,” said Wiggins with a chuckle. “I tried the 4×100, the 100, 200 and 400. I wasn’t very good.”
It wasn’t that she was slow, she just wasn’t as swift as some of the competition. In the Rowan County Track and Field Championships in the spring of 2015, when Wiggins was a freshman, she finished 11th in the 200, five seconds behind North Rowan blazer Payton Russell. In the 400, Wiggins was ninth, trailing Russell, who is an All-American, by nine seconds.
But there came a day when Efird had Wiggins practice with Carson’s distance girls. That’s when Wiggins’ hidden talent surfaced. The light came on.
“She beat them,” Efird said. “Taylor was a distance girl, not a sprinter. It then became my mission to convince her that distance suited her better. Thank goodness she listened.”
Wiggins remembers her first distance attempt.
“We ran two miles and I felt great afterward,” Wiggins said. “I was surprised.”
She had an endurance gift. That’s the day her career really started.
Two years later, Wiggins is the reigning Rowan County champion and South Piedmont Conference champion in cross country and an easy winner of the Post’s Runner of the Year honor.
“I never saw myself being able to do things like that,” Wiggins said. “I wasn’t a runner at all until ninth grade. Running is still a new thing for me.”
Efird also coaches Carson cross country. Wiggins joined that team for the first time as a sophomore. She shocked everyone by placing third in the Rowan County Championships at Dan Nicholas Park and leading Carson to the team title.
She was really coming on by the end of that debut season, leading Rowan runners in the regional and qualifying for the 3A state meet.
She was new to cross country, a very demanding sport, but she pushed herself.
“She set out to accomplish each workout with purpose,” Efird said. “Every runner has those days that they just don’t want to do the workout. She’s no different, but what sets her apart is that she understands that it’s OK to feel that way, but when it’s time to do work, you have to get over it, and run.”
Wiggins kept running.
Last spring, Wiggins competed in the distance races in the county track championships instead of the sprints. She placed second in the 1600 and 3200.
Now, as a junior, it’s her time to be a champion.
In the Rowan County Championships in early October, she won the meet by 31 seconds and shattered the 20-minute barrier for the first time.
“When I started cross country I was running 23s, so I didn’t know how I’d ever break 20,” Wiggins said. “I kept asking myself how in the world could I take four minutes off? But I think that just shows how motivated I am to keep improving.”
In the South Piedmont Conference Championships at Salisbury Community Park, on a tough course and a stiflingly hot day for mid-October, Wiggins ran 20:26. She was disappointed in her time, but she won by 43 seconds.
“I never have to get on her,” Efird said. “Taylor is hard on herself and she knows what she has to do. She is never satisfied. She knows when she did well, but she always wants to do better.”
Wiggins capped her season with two more strong performances — seventh in the 3A Midwest Regional and 19th in the 3A State Championships. She easily broke 20 minutes in both events. She ran 19:48 in the state meet.
Wiggins is Carson’s school record-holder, but Efird said there’s no lack of motivation as far as her senior season.
Carson will be heading into a new conference in the fall, with several Iredell schools. South Iredell’s Giavanna Sirianni, who will be a senior, is one of the best in 3A and finished 40 seconds ahead of Wiggins in the state meet.
“Taylor is already starting to prepare for next year,” Efird said. “She is aware of what’s going to have to happen for her to be conference champion. I can’t wait to see what she does next year. Its going to be something to watch.”
Wiggins is a busy girl. She still plays basketball, contributing a lot of defense and hustle and the occasional 3-pointer for a Carson team that is off to a 9-1 start.
On Sunday night, she served as the narrator for her church’s Christmas program, and she maintains a GPA above 4.6 by making straight A’s in honors courses.
She plans to study biology in college, so she may not have to time to compete after high school. Still, she should have two more outstanding outdoor track seasons and one more stellar cross country season left in her.
“She’s a wonderful student and a fantastic teammate,” Efird said. “She’s pretty dang easy to coach.”
•••
• Salisbury won the Rowan County Championships, nipping Carson by a point. The Hornets also won the Central Carolina Conference title and qualified for the 2A State Championships. Leading the Hornets were freshman Leah Cressler, the CCC Runner of the Year, sophomore Ellen Simons and junior Mary Kaufmann.
• Carson has other standout runners in addition to Wiggins. Freshman Taylor Conrad was runner-up to Wiggins in the county and SPC meets and has a big future. She runs in the 20s and was 23rd in the 3A Midwest Regional. Junior Jessie Nichols is always steady for the Cougars.
• East Rowan freshman Adalie Harrison won the Pre-County Meet and placed third in the Rowan County Championships. She had to fight through some injuries, but she’ll be back to challenge Wiggins and Conrad next fall. Junior Shalea Vanhoose ran well for an East team that was hurt by an injury that sidelined Faith Faller.
• South Rowan placed two girls on the all-county team. Freshman Madison McGuire and sophomore Madison Lowery were among the top dozen runners in the county meet.
• West Rowan also has two all-county runners. Senior Graysen Evans and sophomore Rustyn Orbison excelled in the county meet.

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