The day broke a little wet, a little foggy, and a little windy, but that did not detour your Swain County Maroon Devils Cross Country teams from showing up and winning both men’s and women’s title. This was the women’s fourth title in a row and it was the men’s first title since 2016. XC teams from Cherokee Central to Cherokee County merged onto Kituwah for the 2023 SMC Conference Championships. It is the fourth consecutive year the championships have been held at Kituwah and we are honored to be the hosts for next year as well. “I would like to thank the EBCI Tribal Council, EBCI Offices of the Principal Chief and Vice Chief, and Johi D. Griffin Jr. for all the work they put into making these meets possible for all our athletes.”
The boys came into the meet believing that this is their year. For the first time in this senior groups tenure at Swain, they were all healthy for the meet. “They have competed in large meets all year, number wise this is our smallest meet”, Coach Keith Payne (Meet Director) said before the races. The boys came out quick. “We knew who would be the fastest out there,” Connor Brown said. “The strategy was to keep them close and pull away from everyone else.” They worked that strategy to perfection. Carl Baird was the first Swain across the line with a time of 16:38 and a new PR and a third place finish making him All-Conference. Connor Brown was next, also hitting a PR with a time of 16:44 placing 4th making him All-Conference. He was closely followed by Kane Jones, who also set a new PR of 16:49, finishing 6h making him All-Conference. A big shout out here to Kane Jones who has been All-Conference all four years of his Swain XC Career. Following closely on Kane’s shoes was Abhi Patel who also set a PR time of 17:28, finishing 8th making him All-Conference honorable mention. Connor Lambert finished out our top 5 with a PR run of 17:43, placing 9th and earning All-Conference Honorable Mention. Ross Clapsaddle was our 6th runner, finishing in a time of 18:25 for 12th place and earning an All-Conference Honorable Mention. Cory Wolf was our last teams 7 runners. He finished with a time of 19:23 and a 18th place finish.
After the race, Carl Baird said, “It was a good race, it took out a little fast, as to be expected at any meet at Kituwah. On the team side of things, the boys performed right where we needed to be. If we can keep this up, we can win a state championship.” The boys finished with a team total of 25 points, easily outdistancing second place Hayesville who had 63 points. Coach Payne said of the boys race, “Hayesville is a great team, they are a top 5 team in the state. To be able to win by that much is a testament to our boys. However, we can not be satisfied with this win. Hayesville will be on our heels in two weeks at Regionals, as well as many of the best teams teams in the state. We need to stay focused and work a little harder.”
The women took to the course next. As 3-time defending champions, their mindset was different than the boys. Their goal was to defend a championship won on the back of a great senior group the past two years. “We wanted to show that we are still as dominate as we have been in the past.”, Senior captain Lily Bjerkness stated before the race. “The women come into each season now with a target on their backs. The target continues to get larger as we continue to improve. Even though we have missed having junior captain Arizona Blankenship running so far this year, we have made great progress.” That progress evident after the first mile when Swain had all 7 of their runners in the top 14, and that didn’t change much by the finish.
Our top runner was Sophomore Annie Lewis, who finished 2nd with a great time of 19:33 earning All-Conference recognition. Gaining ground each week is another Sophomore, Angel Lomelli, who set a new PR time of 19:48 finishing 3rd earning All-Conference recognition. Freshman Emily Gray Stargell finished fifth with a PR time of 20:24 earning All-Conference designation. Senior Lily Bjerkness was 6th with a PR time of 20:37 also earning All-Conference. Audrey Monteith finished 10th with a PR time of 20:58, earning All-Conference Honorable Mention. She was followed by Lilah Foster, who as well set a new PR time of 21:16 finishing 11th earning All-Conference Honorable mention. Marden Harvey rounded out our top 7 runners with a time of 24:07 finishing 15th. The girls had a combined team score of just 26 points, beating out 2nd place Cherokee by 32 points. “Our conference has the best runners in the state and we are thrilled to be a part of the SMC. To win both championships in the same year is such a great honor. It is validation of our practices, meet schedules, and work ethic.”
After the race, 3rd place finisher Angel Lomelli had this to say, “Our teams did amazing. Getting to see all of Swain’s teams, both Middle and High School, compete on the same course was a thrill. The teamwork and leadership demonstrated today made me very proud. We have some real talent over here in our little corner of the world and I can’t wait to see what the rest of this season brings us.” Annie Lewis continued this thought, “Based on conference, I feel like have a really good team and are still going to go even further. It is evident in our times and work that we will crush state by a mile. I personally still have things to work on, but know the work will pay off because running is like a cubic function. We have worked hard as a team, and will push through that barrier to meet our goals.”
Your Swain County Maroon XC teams, will have this week off from races, but will be at Kituwah again on Oct. 28th for Regionals. Coach Keith Payne, is once again the meet director for the 1A West Regionals. “We have such a great course and with the help of all the coaches and staff at Swain High and the EBCI, we hope to continue this trend over the next few years. Our course is a great course to set new PR’s and either end your season on a positive note, or set a great time going into the State Meet, the following week.”