Cross Country is so different from the other games played during the fall. There are no time-outs, there are no rest periods, there is no halftime, there are no official breaks or stops…once the race starts it only ends in one crossing the finish line or when the athlete has pushed their body to the reaches of that day and the athlete has no choice but to stop. It is both beautiful and brutal. You don’t have to be the first to cross the finish line to have a personal victory, and this weekend’s race proved that very point.
On August 26th, Swain left the high school at 5:30 a.m. for a race that began at 8:30 a.m. in Hendersonville N.C. We knew going in that much larger schools from all over WNC, the Upstate of South Carolina, and East Tennessee would be there. We knew defending state champions in other classifications and from other states would be lining up next to us. But, adversity makes us stronger. Competition makes us faster and the determination of miles upon miles put in since June makes us fearless.
At the WNC Championships, there are three levels of competition: The Championships, where the best runners race, the Invitational, in which schools’ next best runners compete or where schools whose teams they don’t feel as strong will compete, and the individual race where runners who do not have a team will compete. I compiled all three races into a spreadsheet. This allowed me to see where our athletes finished not only in their race but against every participant on the day. Where they are placed in their own race will be by their name, and the overall finish will be in (parenthesis). Just for reference, there were 454 boys racing and 330 girls who finished the race.
The boy’s championship ran first on a course they knew to be the most demanding course they would run all year. The boy’s race started with Carl Baird leading the team through the first two miles. He was followed by Connor Brown, Kane Jones, Abhi Patel, Connor Lambert, Ross Clapsaddle (freshman), and Cory Wolf. After the two-mile mark, Brown and Lambert started moving up on the field and teammates in order to push them towards a faster time and a better finish. These two seniors ran a very smart race and helped lead the team to a 9th-place overall finish in the race out of 19 teams in their race and 9th overall out of 29 teams on the day. Connor Brown (22) was our first finisher at 17:23 (a personal best for the course by 2 minutes). He was followed by Carl Baird(29) at 17:34 (an overall personal best by 41 seconds), then Kane Jones (67) at 18:30, Connor Lambert (104) at 19:17 (a course PR by 10 seconds), Ross Clapsaddle (117) in his first varsity 5k with a time of 19:31, Abhi Patel (133) at 19:46, and Cory Wolf (139) at 19:54. The 9th place finish for the team was the highest the boys have ever finished in the Championship Race and they would have won the Invitational Race. A great showing by this group of young men.
In the boy’s Invitational race, we had two freshmen who raced this difficult course and set a very high bar for continued growth. Derek Gunter(192) finished with a time of 21:06 and Port Sontheimer (248) had a time of 22:40. This race showed great heart from these two athletes as they didn’t have the support of the senior leadership during their race to help them. They kind of had to figure things out for themselves between mile markers. The coaches were there at the mile, 2 mile, and right before the 3-mile mark to give them tips and strategy notes, but these two showed great grit in their race.
Next up are the girls, your two-time, defending 1A NCHSAA Cross Country Champions. Each year it seems that people forget how dominating these girls have been. It seems that they are forgotten or maybe it’s just every expects them to just win. Whatever the lack of enthusiasm about this team is off-setting, but puts a fire into them. We came into this week limping. 2 of our top 7 runners were nursing injuries and one injured themselves on the course, leaving only 6 girls to compete, and did they ever compete. Annie Lewis took early control of the race, racing near the front of the field at the first mile, followed by Angel Lomelli, Marden Harvey, Lily Bjerkness, Audrey Monteith, and freshman Carden Oetting (who has never run a 5k for Swain, not even in practice). The girls fed off each other’s energy and the athletes around them. The championship pedigree showed through as they finished 9th in the Championship race, well ahead of any other 1A or 2A team in the field. Annie Lewis finished 8th overall with a time of 20:23 (a 1:30 improvement over last year), she was followed by Angel (57) at 22:55 (a 1:38 improvement over last year), Marden (62) at 23:03 (an improvement of 1:04 from last year), Captain Lily (75) at 23:25 (an 11-second improvement), Audrey Monteith (85) at 23:42 (a very impressive 7:24 improvement over last year at this same time…that’s hard work and grit), and then freshman Carden Oetting (102), who just joined us this week and wasn’t going to run the Championship race, but knew we needed the assistance and she jumped right in finishing in 24:12 in her first ever 5K.
When people ask what we do in Swain to be so successful, it’s a little the coaching, it’s a little the community, but it is mostly the spirit of these athletes and they deserve to be recognized, they deserve to be celebrated, and they are commanding the respect of all programs in the NCHSAA.
We race again this Wednesday at AC Reynolds in Asheville in a 2-mile Chase Race. In this format, all 7th runners leave at the same time, then the 6th, then the 5th, then the 4th, all the way down to our number ones. It should make for a very fun race and a great atmosphere. JV’s go at 5:30 pm, varsity at 6:15 p.m. Please come out and support us.