Daniel's Slann, three underclassmen claim individual championships
Riverside's girls had company on the podium at the state meet Saturday
-- the school's boys team.
Cover photo by Ben Wade for scrunners.com
Seeded third, Riverside's boys, wearing old-school jerseys, harkened back to the days when the Warriors were consistently on top and won the school's first state title in boys cross country in 17 years.
Riverside's girls repeated as champions in Class AAAA, and Hilton Head swept the boys and girls titles in Class AAA at Sandhills Research Center.
The only surprise of the four was the victory by the Riverside boys, who entered the meet seeded behind Lower State champion Wando and Upper State champion Wade Hampton.
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"We knew that we were going to have to be dead-on," Riverside coach Eric Cummings said. "We knew that (Wando was) going to have to slip a little bit. We felt we were chasing Wando. We knew (about) Wade Hampton last week. We just didn't run well at all last week to qualify in, so we were focused on Wando."
The Warriors normally wear checkerboard jerseys, but junior Evans Harrison asked if they could make a switch for the state meet, pointing out the checkerboards are "targets."
They opted for jerseys from nine years ago, Cummings' first season as the team's coach.
"The checkerboards are cool, and they're easy to spot, but we wear them every meet, every scrimmage, every time we go out and run, so they're not as sentimental," said senior Kyle Mook.
"It worked," said Cummings. "They packed up. They were in first place at the mile, the two-mile, two and a half miles we were in the lead. We knew it was going to be tight, and they pulled it off."
Riverside, which won for the first time since Willie Wooden coached the boys to 11 straight titles from 1987-97, finished with 75 points. Wando was second with 84 and Wade Hampton third with 104.
Mook led the Warriors with an all-state performance and an eighth-place finish (15:55). Ben Cignarale (14th in 16:19) also made all-state for Riverside. Neel Taber was 17th (16:22), Andrew Castano 18th (16:26) and Harrison 21st (16:30).
"It means a lot, especially being a senior and going out with such a great win, knowing that each and every day my teammates pushed me to become faster," Mook said. "A lot of our guys don't have as much natural talent as some of the other athletes out there, so each and every day we had to work hard knowing that was a new day to get better and faster."
The Riverside girls were led by sophomore Cate Ambrose, who became Cummings' first individual state champion. Ambrose set the school record earlier this season at Lake Murray, and she broke it Saturday by less than a second, winning in 18:07.23.
"I started out with a big pack of girls," Ambrose said. "The hills really help me. I pull ahead on the hills, and every time I heard someone behind me, I would try to surge and get a better lead. I was trying to stay in front the whole time.
"I felt really strong the whole time. Normally the last mile, I kind of fall back. But this time I felt really strong through the whole race, so that was good."
Ambrose, 15th as a freshman, won by 16 seconds over runner-up Lanie Jo Wright of Rock Hill.
"If she would have had somebody the last mile to go with, she could have broken 18," Cummings said.
Ashley Fallow (fifth, 18:43), Carter Marchbanks (sixth, 18:47), Jessie Crowley (10th, 18:54) and Emma Spencer (11th, 18:56) joined Ambrose on the all-state team, and teammates Mikie Harris (19:09) and Abigail Smith (19:45) also broke 20 minutes for the Warriors.
Riverside finished with 33 points. Dutch Fork was second with 69.
Along with Ambrose, Crowley, Spencer and Harris had PRs.
"Everyone's comparing it to last year when we won by 127 points," Cummmings said of the Warriors' record margin in 2013. "Dutch Fork is a great team. They're a young team. They lose one girl in their top seven. We lose none. Dorman loses none. They finished third."
Youth was served in the Class AAAA boys race when Ashley Ridge sophomore Jackson Ellenburg crossed the finish line in 15:28
, the fastest time of the day. Wando senior Logan Veatch was runner-up in 15:37
Ellenburg, seventh in the state as a freshman, emerged from an unusually large pack that was still together at the first mile.
"Usually I go out kind of hard, so I'm not really used to running in a pack, so that was kind of different, but it worked out pretty well," Ellenburg said. "I definitely liked the pack, because we've all raced together before.
"Me and (Dutch Fork's) Avery (Dominick) and (Spartanburg's) Myers (McKinney) were there for the first mile and a half to two miles, and then I tried to make my move with probably about a half mile left, but I ended up doing it on the second to last turn, so a little bit later, with about 600 meters left."
In Class AAA, the Hilton Head boys and girls won their sixth and fourth titles, respectively.
The Hilton Head girls' championship was particularly significant because the Seahawks were led by freshman Mallory Liggett, who became the school's first girl to win an individual cross country state championship, posting a time of 18:37.
"Winning the whole thing was really awesome," Hilton Head coach Bill Wrightson said. "It wasn't a total surprise, but there's always a lot of competition for that first spot. She works hard every day, she's obviously got talent and she's a big-game player. She comes to run in the big meets, and she did extremely well today."
"The first mile I tried to get into a good pace that I could try and keep," said Liggett, who finished third a year ago. "I didn't want to go too fast or too slow. Then the second mile I got into it and tried to pass people, and then the third mile I tried to kick it in and get it done."
Liggett got it done just two seconds ahead of the runner-up, Daniel's Laurie Barton.
Along with Liggett, Hilton Head had four others on the all-state team -- Miyah Shatz (fifth, 19:05), Carley McGlinn (eighth, 19:16), Frankie Schoning (10th, 19:20) and Abbigale Gross (14th, 19:40) -- and another who came in under 20 minutes (Esther Anderson, 19th in 19:57).
Hilton Head finished with 34 points. Eastside was runner-up with 63.
"It wasn't as close as all the virtual meets showed, especially because because (Eastside) had a girl hurt, Carson Davis, who was their solid number three," Wrightson said, "and unless you've got seven deep, if you lose your third, you've got trouble."
The Hilton Head boys team was even more of a runaway winner. The Seahawks had 21 points. Eastside, again, was the runner-up, with 118, and Greer, with its highest finish ever in the boys meet, was third with 184.
Hilton Head did not have the individual champion, but the Seahawks filled up seven spots in the top 11.
Ben Gilman was the state runner-up in 15:53, and he had six teammates on the all-state team: Cisco Ferré (fourth, 15:56.75), Eladio Wilkinson (fourth, 16:07.82), Danny Shaughnessy (fifth, 16:19.83), Nahuel Nahuel Coronel (seventh, 16:26.78), Jack Beattie (10th, 16:38.83) and Sam Beattie (11th, ).16:38.89.
"I think they were hoping to run faster today as a team," Wrightson said. "Again, if you looked at all the virtual meets, it was kind of a foregone conclusion that we would win this, but you've still got to go do it.
"I think we did OK, but they were trying to break the record and be the fastest team ever, and they really didn't come close to that. I told the boys, this thing starts with 50 high schools looking to win a state title, and 49 of them go away not happy, so enjoy it."
Hilton Head did not have the individual winner because Daniel has made that an annual event.
Following teammates Andre Ivankovic in 2012 and Gabe Haughey in 2013, the Lions' Jacob Slann took first this year, finishing in 15:35.
"I planned on running in the front but not necessarily leading, so I was just kind of staying with the leaders, and it worked," Slann said. "After the second mile, I felt really good, so I decided to go then, and I was able to pull it out."
He came in 18 seconds ahead of Hilton Head's Gilman.
"Hilton Head is a very good team, and they had a lot of very good runners in this field," Slann said. "I thought it would be closer, but I guess I just had a better day. They're still great athletes and great competitors, but I'm glad I was able to pull it out."