Hollingsworth is committed to excellence
Every once in a while comes an athlete that is outstanding at any sport they choose to compete in, Fans of Marshall County sports the past four years have been lucky to witness the sheer talent of Leah Hollingsworth on the hardwood, the diamond, and this past weekend, for the last time, in cross country.
For an unprecedented fourth straight time the Tigerette senior traveled to Nashville to compete in the TSSAA cross country state championships for the fourth and final time.
"Running in the state for the last time was very bittersweet because I knew no matter what that it was my last race ever," Hollinsworth said. "That aspect of it was sad, of course, because I'll never have another experience like that in my life. Overall, though, I was just overjoyed to have made it back for the fourth year."
With new alignments in all sports following the 2016 seasons, Hollingsworth found herself in a tough position of racing against girls from mostly 3A schools after the TSSAA split the divisions into just large and small, with Marshall County coming in at the very end of the small division cutoff, becoming one of the smallest teams enrollment-wise competing with the large division.
The result was Hollingsworth finishing 120th out of 192nd participants despite an excellent time of 22:14.
That time would have placed Hollingsworth 8th in the small school division, 16th in the Division II-A level, and 18th in the D-II-AA level.
"I wish TSSAA would have made three division like they have in basketball, softball, and baseball," Marshall County cross country coach Heather Denton said. "Cross Country has grown by 10% in the past three years but I feel like the state has made it really hard for medium size schools to compete. There were only three teams with a school size less 1000 in the large class Saturday. Hopefully, TSSAA will notice those results."
And with four straight years competing in the cross country state championships, the Lewisburg native still has great memories of the event.
"My favorite memory from state has to be the support I received this year," Hollingsworth, who has brought a large contingent of supporters each year, stated. "I was surrounded by people who have been at every single one of my meets and people who had never been to a cross country meet before. All the support was just overwhelming and I was extremely thankful for that."
Like many athletes that have excelled in multiple sports before her, the secret to success for Hollingsworth is obvious--hard work.
" The secret to my success has simply been to stay determined and focused every year," Hollingsworth explained. "Sometimes you have to get out of bed at 6 AM on a summer morning and run five miles when you'd rather be in bed. Those kind of sacrifices take mental strength, but those are what set you apart from the competition."
And with graduation rapidly approaching for the highly decorated Marshall County athlete, she will be remembered by coach Denton as the runner that put the young program on the map.
"It has been a pleasure to coach Leah the past four years in cross country and three years in softball," Denton said. "She is an athlete coach dreams about. She also gives 100% in everything she does. She is obvious very talented, but her work ethic and attitude towards her skill pushes her to the next level."
"Coach Zajac and I were so proud that Leah was able to make it state for the 4th year in row in a very hard region," Denton added. "We will definitely miss her next year, but I think she has laid a very strong foundation for our program."
Even though Hollingsworth will be gone by the time next summer ends, the Marshall County senior is quick to point out that the middle Tennessee school's chance for state championship dreams are still intact with upcoming talent.
"Naomi Hopper is definitely the girl I expect to take my place next year," Hollingsworth said. "She is extremely hard working and she's already improved immensely from where she began as a freshman. Her mental strength will take her far and I expect to see a lot of medals from her next year."
"As far as advice to runners and future runners, I would definitely tell them to go that extra mile and push when they feel like all energy is gone. I try to apply that in running and in my everyday life. Keep moving and keep pushing, no matter what."
Top notch advice from a top notch athlete.
And now that the cross country season has closed, Hollingsworth will turn her attention to the basketball court as the Tigerettes continue the quest to bring the once proud program back to statewide prominence.