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CHS Freshman Qualifies for Regional XC Meet

                Cleburne High School freshman Emma Dudley ran herself all the way to the Region II qualifiers’ list, finishing in fourth place at the 14-5A District Cross Country Meet.

                Dudley will be back on the starting line Monday afternoon at the Jesse Owens Memorial Complex in Dallas, where she will compete with the region’s top distance runners over a three-mile course. Start time for the girls' 5A event is 2 PM. 

                The 14-year-old says she is a little nervous—and “super excited.”

                Dudley experienced her first distance race at the age of five, when she participated in a CASA one-mile fun run. She moved up to 5Ks in fourth grade and competed in both cross country and track at Smith Middle School as a member of the 7th and 8th grade teams.

                As an eighth grader, Dudley determined that distance running was her sport, as she found herself at the front of the pack—and on the medal stand. At the 1st Annual Cathy Marchel STinG Run, held last February, Dudley was the first to cross the finish line among the female entries.

                “I like running. It’s like I can breathe better after I run, and it gives me the chance to be out in nature,” Dudley said. “I’ve learned this is something I really like. I also like the independence of running, going at your own pace.”

                While she decided in middle school that she would continue to compete in XC and track in high school, Dudley didn’t envision herself competing at the varsity level in her first season.

                “I felt whenever I made varsity, I would be the last on the team,” she said. “I can’t believe all this has happened. At the first of the season it was so hard. But after the first couple of races, I began to push myself, to not stop even if I wanted to. It’s gone a lot easier since then. Starting the race is now super easy—but it’s still hard as I get close to the end.”

                Dudley experienced her first top finish at the October 15 XC meet at Haltom City, where she came away with the gold medal and a new personal record. Cross Country Coach Paul Chavez says that race was a sign of what was to come for Dudley, who has continued to shave time off the clock, while honing her running skills and technique.

                “You always hope your runners don’t peak too son,” Chavez said. “In her past two races, Emma has posted new personal records, so she’s hitting at the perfect time for her. I’m believing Regionals has come at just the right time. It will be a big race, but not for her.”

                “Competition drives Emma,” he said. “She’s always got a smile on her face. She just enjoys running—and being in the moment. I don’t think the pressure of Regionals will affect her.”

                Dudley’s signature smile is what comes to mind for Smith Middle School Girls Athletic Coordinator Jennifer Wilson, who coached her through two seasons of cross country.

                “What I love about Emma is she’s always smiling,” Wilson said. “I helped with the District meet and when she ran by me, she was grinning from ear to ear. I love her energy and positivity. You can tell she loves running and she gives 110 percent every time. I’m so proud of her.”

                The ninth grader often hears about the smile she wears as she races along the course. One of her biggest came as she crossed the finish line at the District meet.

                “Everyone tells me I smile when I run and I know I had a big smile on my face at the end of that race,” she said. “I didn’t at one point, when a girl passed me on a corner to take over third place. That really disappointed me. But when I found out I finished over a minute faster than my previous personal best I was really smiling.”

                Dudley reflects the youth on the girls varsity team, which has a total of four freshman runners.

                “All four recorded new personal records at District,” Chavez said. “That tells us the future of girls cross country at CHS is looking bright, with the majority being this young. Through the years, with Coach Pete King, and then Coach Alicia Johnson, our program was built on a solid foundation. To carry on the torch for the Running Yellow Jackets is a huge honor.”

                Dudley’s achievement in advancing to the Region II meet also reflects the competitive continuity of the program, season after season. While this will be her first “regional rodeo” as a first-year high school runner, Chavez says it has nothing to do with beginner’s luck.

                “Emma’s been right there all season,” Chavez said. “She has worked together with our veteran members. It’s been impressive to see how the whole team has worked. I respect them so much, in getting up early, arriving at school at 6 in the morning ready to run. They are all good kids--respectful, well-mannered and disciplined.”

                For Dudley, cross country is just one of the things on her plate as a student at CHS. While her running roots go back two generations, she’s also been a dancer since the age of three and is a member of the CHS Showstoppers Dance Team. Her interest in becoming a veterinarian has her enrolled in ag science classes and she competes on the FFA Quiz Team. Her passion for baking led her to culinary arts. And her success in geometry has edged out English as her favorite subject.

                “I get up early to get to cross country practice, followed by school,” she said. “I leave at 5, after Showstoppers practice. I’m probably here at school more than I am at home—but I like it.”

All this involvement has taught her to manage her time, currently devoting as much as possible to preparation for Monday’s race. Dudley plans to continue to run on through to her senior year.

                “Running has been fun, but now I’m getting more serious about it because of the opportunity for a college scholarship that could come from it,” she said. “I’m not sure what the Regional race will be like, but we’ve been doing different things to help me prepare. Coach Chavez says I’ve been hitting my split times, so that’s a good thing. I’ve also adjusted my kick time at the end, which has helped a lot.”

                Mentally, Dudley’s plan is to run “her” race—with a smile.


Cleburne High School freshman Emma Dudley was all smiles following her fourth place finish at the 14-5A District Cross Country Meet, which qualified her for Regionals. Dudley will be on the course Monday as a competitor at the Region II race, set for 2 p.m. at the Jesse Owens Memorial Complex in Dallas. (Courtesy Photo)