Seeing Double: Rise Of Flower Mound's Dynamo Distance Duo

* Samantha (left) and Nicole Humphries have emerged as two of the nation's top cross country runners as they lead a ranked Flower Mound (TX) program.

"I think if anything, it's definitely more of a blessing than a curse to always have someone. We're best friends."

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By Ashley Tysiac -- MileSplit

To watch Samantha and Nicole Humphries run together at practice, it's like seeing double.

    As they jog stride-for-stride in the middle of a pack of Flower Mound High School runners, they cruise with ease. Their straight brown ponytails bounce with each step of their matching Nike shoes on the sidewalk.

      They showcase similar smiles on their faces and they talk with teammates alongside them. 

        The only real differences between the two are their chosen outfits for this Friday morning September practice. Nicole dons a loud, neon-pink top while Samantha wears a sleek teal shirt and dark-colored shorts.

        The fashion choices may be the only way to truly tell the sisters apart at first glance. As Nicole likes to put it, she and Samantha are "chemically the same person."

        In fact, they are identical twin sisters.

        And so logging those practice miles surrounded by their Flower Mound peers is part of a shared pursuit, as they chase nearly carbon-copy goals in the sport they've found success in since grade school.

        When it's time for Samantha and Nicole to step to the line on race day, they bring nearly identical star power to the table.

        Less than two seconds separate Samantha's and Nicole's individual personal bests on the cross country course for 5K -- both of which rank among the top 30 nationally this fall. Moreover, go through the list of track distances from the 3,200 meters down to the 800m last spring and you'll find a similar pattern, merely seconds separating one Humphries runner from the other.

        They have the hardware to back up their talent, too. Samantha is a Texas UIL Class 6A outdoor champ in the 800m, while Nicole owns a state bronze medal in the 1,600m. They each also own top 15 finishes at the state cross country championships, Nicole placing as high as fourth in 2021.

        Just making it to the line at the state championships in a state as deep as Texas comes with prestige and notoriety. But here at Flower Mound, two distance runners with the name Humphries have made their way into the elite-level national conversation.

        "It's hard to put it into words," Nicole said. "It definitely is something that is unique and it makes it so much more fun."

        And yet, 2022 is different. As upperclassmen, the Humphries have now found themselves in a new role, not only filling the shoes of one of the fastest high school distance runners in history, but now tasked with leading a Flower Mound program toward something more elusive this year. 

        Could this Texas squad win a national team title? Could this duo shape Flower Mound into the country's next great power program?

        "I think if anything, it's definitely more of a blessing than a curse to always have someone," Nicole said. "We're best friends."

        Twin Talents

        The origins -- Meeting Coach

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        There's a lighthearted ease to which the Humphries tackle running, and even on this Friday morning of easy training, there's no deviating from that.

        A fun-yet-routine energy fills the air as Samantha and Nicole prepare for a relaxed four miles. It's apparent in the warm-up lines with the 50-or-so Flower Mound teammates following along in the student parking lot.

        The drills begin as the Humphries walk down the parking lot doing straight leg kicks. Samantha and Nicole chat with friends, sharing their weekend plans and talking about school. Within minutes, everyone starts their watches and takes off.

          Samantha and Nicole make it look like an easy regiment for two high school juniors. They've always championed a near-identical enthusiasm for the sport since the beginning, years before becoming two of Flower Mound's most respected leaders.

          Just ask the guy running next to them on their easy run, a man in his 40s who is the orchestrator to all this success.

          Flower Mound distance coach Andrew Cook can still vividly remember one of his first encounters with Samantha and Nicole during an event called the "Jag Mile'' in 2011.

          "These twin girls, they were wearing these little headbands and looked super serious," Cook said. "I can't remember what they ran but it was around, in second grade, like a 6:20 or 6:30 mile.

          "I was like, 'That's not really normal.'"

          From that mile moment on, the Humphries entered the radar of the running community, a leafy suburb just northwest of Dallas. They joined the area youth running club, where they raced in track and cross country meets and connected with Cook and his daughter -- future high school 5,000m outdoor record-holder Natalie Cook

          While the duo shared their time with other sports -- soccer for both and dance for Nicole -- they shifted their focus to running full-time in middle school. And yet, talent alone wasn't what sold them on this lifelong pursuit. Maybe it was more simple than that. This sport, they believed, brought out the best in each of them.

          "It's so pure when you're that young, no nerves and everything," Samantha said.

          Top 20 finishes for both Samantha and Nicole at the USATF National Junior Olympic XC Championships in eighth grade helped the pair realize that success could go hand-in-hand with distance running. Nicole dropped her 1,600m time to 5:04.08, while Samantha wasn't far behind in 5:05.67.

          Maybe that's also part of the reason why high school couldn't come fast enough.

          At Flower Mound, they knew they had the chance to be a part of something bigger.

          "We knew the fields and the competition," Samantha said. "We still saw ourselves as contenders even though we were so young."

          Enter Flo Mo

          Building the brand just north of Dallas

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          A walk through the Flower Mound High School fieldhouse begins to tell a story.

          The walls showcase a cross country program seen as one of Texas' best.

          Maybe one of the nation's best.

          In the narrow hallways hang banner after banner -- championship commemorations, national recognitions and Natalie Cook's Gatorade National Cross Country Player of the Year award. 

          "There's definitely a lot of them," Nicole casually says as she and Samantha pass them exiting the fieldhouse for pre-practice drills.

          Next to those flags are top 25 boards, a staple of any high school program: The rankings which change year-to-year as athletes move up the list. Maybe it helps put into perspective just how high the bar is for the Humphries this year. Many of those banners are from 2021 and 2022, a calendar year that saw the Flower Mound girls program evolve into a Texas powerhouse. 

          How much so? Those around the program now reference it only as "Flo Mo." The newly-minted nickname is a respect earned through consistent dominance, both on the cross country course and track, reflected through both times and intimidating depth. 

          It didn't hurt, either, to have Natalie Cook, who evolved - in just one year - into one of the nation's most talented high school distance athletes of all-time.

          During the 2021-22 calendar year, Flower Mound amassed quite the list of accolades, including a 4xmile indoor national record, a seventh-place team finish at the Garmin RunningLane Cross Country National Championships, a Texas UIL Class 6A outdoor state team title and two individual cross country national championships from Cook ... which had never been done before, by anyone. 

          But those successes didn't come as much of a surprise to those living in Flower Mound.

          Nor did it for the Humphries twins, who envisioned Flower Mound's rise to national relevance long before it actually did. 

          "I remember being in middle school, even in like sixth grade, just dying to get to high school," Samantha said. "I think we knew we were going to have a pretty good team, and so we were just excited to get to that new level."

          While Cook's mind-boggling senior season may have garnered the most prominent spotlight, Samantha and Nicole had their own hands in molding history, too. 

          First came the Texas UIL Class 6A state cross country championships, where the then-sophomores placed fourth and 12th, respectively, to help the Jaguars defend their team title from 2020. 

          Then in March, the duo accounted for half of the relay squad that broke the indoor 4xmile national record at New Balance Nationals Indoor in 19:37.78, smashing the previous mark by nearly 20 seconds.

          Perhaps the most stunning accomplishment came a few months later at outdoor states. Samantha and Nicole combined for 32 points to account for nearly half of Flower Mound's 68 total points - 58 of which came in distance events - to win the program's first track and field state title. 

          Samantha claimed 10 points for her 800m win, along with 16 from her second-place finishes at the longer 1,600m and 3,200m distances, and it made for a show-stopping individual effort for the sophomore. 

          Photo Credit: Chance Kirby/MileSplit Texas

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          But only months removed from the whirlwind, Flower Mound is frankly a different team this fall. Namely, there is no Natalie Cook, who is off to a flying start at Oklahoma State. 

          "Not having Natalie anymore, I definitely feel older and feel more like a leader," Nicole said, "Having to take on that role and being more at the top."

          As underclassmen, there seemed to be less expectation and more curiosity as to how each would perform on a given day. Now, Samantha said, there's more presumption that her and Nicole should be two of the best distance talents around. 

          "I think being a little bit older, there's more high expectation to be on the top. That's just something we want to maintain, our position," Samantha said.

          It's a responsibility to Flower Mound and themselves that they haven't taken lightly. If not on their A-game, they know the team's hunt for state title repeat could suffer and their individual pursuits could fall by the wayside. 

          But at their core, they're still the same pair of focused-yet-lively athletes that lined up for the Jag Mile with their headbands years ago.

          The only thing that's disappeared is the matching hair accessories.

          "The whole time, they've been top-level athletes," Andrew Cook said. "Just how they've handled that, (I've) been really impressed."

          Trust In Two

          Making A Statement -- For 3 miles in Irvine

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          It's around 7:20 a.m. as Cook pulls his SUV into a parking spot outside the school fieldhouse.

          As he walks to the building doors to greet his athletes for practice, he's met with quite a surprise.

          Standing with teammates waiting to get into the fieldhouse entrance are Samantha and Nicole, having been dropped off by their mom 10 minutes prior.

          That's more than unusual for Flower Mound's star distance duo, who usually make it to practice just in time for Cook's pre-run speech with only a few minutes to spare.

          "Wow, you guys are here early," Cook joked.

          They may not always be the first ones to arrive for the morning runs, but that doesn't mean the Humphries are any less dedicated. That's an aspect of the sport that's never been hard for them to understand.

          "I felt like even when they were younger, they still had that focus," Cook said.

          Even though the Humphries entered high school with a raw combination of talent, coachability and enthusiasm, the transition didn't come without a stark learning curve.

          While Samantha and Nicole proved pivotal as part of Flower Mound's first-ever cross country state championship program as freshmen in 2020, injury and adjustments to training and competition challenged their progress.

          "We were excited, but unfortunately when you're younger, you have age to your disadvantage," Nicole said. "Freshman and sophomore year were kind of just years of getting adjusted."

          Yet there's still no denying the dynamic impact the duo brought with them to Flower Mound as underclassmen. 

          Top individual finishes at district and regional meets as freshmen, later followed by state championship dominance in track and cross country as 10th-graders, proved pivotal in shaping Flower Mound's place among the nation's elite distance programs, as well as their own individual trajectories.

          "I can't not give all my effort, and so if I start doing something, I want to be really good at it," Nicole said. "Over time, (it's) the feeling of not wanting to give up."

          Now two years older and more experienced, Samantha and Nicole have begun to silence self doubts.

          Amid the mass of spectators under the night lights at Irvine's Great Park for the Woodbridge Classic in California in early September came a pivotal moment, where courage in each other helped Samantha and Nicole more than ever before.

          It began with Samantha, who understood that her place was at the front of the star-studded field. It was something Cook assured her of every day. 

          In an instant, she said, something clicked.

          "I think I was like 70th at RunningLane nationals, but that's not really where I belong now," Samantha recalled reminding herself on the start line.

          That mental flip of the switch was all Samantha needed. Right from the start, she went stride-for-stride with Ventura (CA) sophomore phenom Sadie Engelhardt in the lead pack of the anticipated sweepstakes race.

          "I think I was like 70th at RunningLane nationals, but that's not really where I belong now."

          On the flip side, there was Nicole, who tried to cover up her race nerves with lighthearted dancing in warm ups. 

          "I don't know what to do almost," Nicole said. "I kind of start a wave behind her and I kind of have to make it up because I don't know if I trust myself or not to go with her."

          When Samantha took it out with Engelhardt, Nicole had her own reckoning amid the frenzy of running with the chase pack. She took a second to look up and see her own sister failing to back down from one of California's elite distance talents. Immediate feelings of pride formed in her mind. 

          If Samantha's up at the front, why am I not up there, too?

          "If I look up and see her in a certain position, it makes me realize, 'Oh, I should be up there too,'" Nicole said. "I should start picking it up there because I should literally be right next to her. Finding each other in a race, it's almost like a cheat, like how you know where you should be."

          So then came the statement response from Nicole. For nearly two miles at the Woodbridge Classic, twin sisters from Texas led the way.

          Samantha would ultimately clock a massive 3-mile PR of 16:03.2 for third place, only behind Engelhardt and Oaks Christian's (CA) Payton Godsey. A late fall with a quarter-mile to go would drop Nicole back to 46th, but she knew the other 90-percent of the race showed her potential. 

          "If I look up and see her in a certain position, it makes me realize, 'Oh, I should be up there too.' I should start picking it up there because I should literally be right next to her. Finding each other in a race, it's almost like a cheat, like how you know where you should be."

          Would that same narrative have unfolded at Woodbridge if one Humphries was without the other? 

          Samantha and Nicole both agree that the biggest advantage they have is when they toe the start line together.

          "It's probably something that we take for granted sometimes just because we're used to it," Nicole said. "I feel like if I was any other person running alone - obviously you still have your team - but I don't know if it would be as special."

          Ask anyone from Flower Mound about what the Humphries bring to the table, and they'll speak of that whimsical twinly-trust, which brings immense upside both to the program and to the emerging duo. 

          "I think their leadership gives us a lot of confidence," Cook said.

          Still On Top

          Pushing Toward National Excellence

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          Entering the cross country postseason, Flower Mound has so far done its job upholding the success forged in 2021.

          Currently ranked third on the MileSplit50 national rankings and a solid favorite in the state of Texas, the Lady Jaguars haven't missed a beat.

          And the squad may be in an even better position, especially with the Humphries stepping up as proven, confident leaders.

          Since Woodbridge, both Nicole and Samantha have improved upon their lifetime bests at 5K, running 17:09.6 and 17:11.1, respectively. That ranks them sixth and seventh among girls in the Texas 6A classification, and 27th and 32nd on a national scale.

          More recently at districts, Samantha and Nicole easily went 1-2 with finish times of 17:15.00 and 17:23.10. Beyond the top two, the rest of the seven-member varsity team has also risen to the challenge. 

          Athletes like Alexandra Fox, Natalie Spangher and Ava Cole have proven consistent and dropped minutes off of 5K bests from previous seasons. At the District 6 meet, the group posted just 23 points to dominantly win the team competition.

          The following week at regionals, a narrow one-point win over Southlake Carroll came thanks to a well-rounded team performance, including a marquee third-place run from Fox and an individual win from Samantha.

          What lies ahead for Flower Mound is the final homestretch -- states and nationals.  

          For Samantha and Nicole, that sprint to the finish means checking off all the boxes on their preseason bucket lists: Capturing career-best finishes at states and elusive berths to nationals.

          On Nov. 4, a runner named Humphries could stand atop the 6A podium at Old Settlers Park.

          Which one? Perhaps that's anyone's guess. 

          "It's going to be tough," Cook said. "There are a lot of great runners in the state of Texas, but I think they have a good chance of doing that."

          Each moment shared - down to the seconds of every workout split, the miles logged before school each morning and the minutes racing along the cross county course - makes Flower Mound's power of two a dynamic whole.

          "I definitely think if I didn't have her, I probably would not be, if I was even running, I definitely would not be as motivated or interested as I am to excel," Nicole said.

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