All-Area Girls Cross Country, Michaela Williams of Nash Central High School.

Telegram photo / Hannah Potes

All-Area Girls Cross Country, Michaela Williams of Nash Central High School.

2013 ALL-AREA GIRLS' CROSS COUNTRY: Williams takes the lead for Bulldogs during senior season

By Jessie H. Nunery

Sports Editor

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There wasn’t any begging or pleading, only an expectation shared through a few characters on a smart phone for the dedicated to see.

“7 a.m., Monday morning, Nash Central.”

The mass text messages Michae’la Williams sent to her Nash Central cross country teammates during the summer were simple and written with purpose.

On the days that Bulldogs coach Marshall Leonard could not lead offseason workouts, the responsibility fell to Williams.

And she expected everyone who received the texts to attend.

“I guess looking up to the older guys and being under them made me feel like when it was my time, I could do it too – take a stand and have someone follow me.” Williams said. “They know what I say goes, and it means something. They followed me. I can’t be mean.”

For the past four years, area runners physically have followed Williams.

During her senior season, she added leadership to her resume and paced the area down the stretch in the more important races of the season to win her fourth consecutive Telegram All-Area Girls’ Cross Country Runner of the Year honor.

Leonard has seen what Williams can do on a cross country course.

What particularly impressed him about the Gardner-Webb-bound runner was Williams’ approach to the season. In addition to organizing offseason workouts, Williams gathered the team for a summer movie night at the home of a teammate.

She and the Bulldogs often met for dinners at Pizza Inn. She even agreed to play basketball with members of the boys’ squad after one of the meets this season.

“It’s the little stuff like that which adds up to being a leader,” Leonard said. “It’s not just being a frontrunner all the time. It’s doing the stuff that gets you respect from your

Williams minded the pulse of her team, but it took longer than in past seasons to place herself in peak form.

Her credentials at the end of the season show that she had a fall most dedicated runners would love (third in the Big East, eighth in the region, 45th in the state).

It wasn’t all easy.

She battled dehydration during an early-season meet that landed her in the hospital for a few hours. Williams wasn’t eating or drinking enough before practices and races, and her performance, while steady, was not where she would have liked.

Most of all, Williams was not in the proper mental mind frame as she often flashed back to a hip avulsion injury that hampered her 2012 cross country season, wiped away her winter track months and slowed her 2013 spring track campaign.

“I was a little scared after not being able to run for so long,” Williams said. “But I couldn’t go off what I felt. I had to go with my mind. I had to grow out of that and build up my self-esteem. I told myself, ‘I’m brand new. I’m healed.’”

By the middle of the season, Williams began to run the way she knew she could.

There was no time for hesitance down the stretch of Williams’ career.

She advanced to the state meet for a fourth consecutive season, and she might have appreciated the final run more than any of the others.

After achieving so much success her freshman and sophomore seasons, Williams had to overcome obstacles during the final two.

Leonard said outsiders often assume that the fastest runners are leaders. He said it takes time for athletes like Williams to complete the maturation process.

“It’s not as easy as people think,” Williams said. “I have to work for it. I had to push myself harder than what they thought. ... I felt like I ended it well. It wasn’t where I wanted it, but it was close enough. I thank God it happened like it did.”


Jessie H. Nunery can be reached at 407-9959 or