St. Joseph's girls roll on; Academic Magnet sweeps
Micah Williams began running to stay in shape for basketball, and he wound up becoming the LeBron James of cross country, making all those around him better.
On Saturday at Sandhills Research Center, Williams' pushing, prodding and encouraging came to fruition in the form of Greer Middle College's first state championship when the boys cross country team won the Class A title.
And Williams, a senior who had spent three years trying to run down Christ Church's James Quattlebaum, finally secured a state championship of his own. He finished first in 15:35.
"It's exciting and surreal," Williams said. "Coming from freshman year with no expectations to this, it's such a great thing. It really just speaks to how God used this in my life, because me not knowing anything about cross country and just having seen God's plan play through all that is just so cool. I can't really understand it, but it's just so great."
"It's a dream coaching him," said GMC coach David Smith. "He's the best I've ever coached."
Williams didn't reach one of his personal goals. He had hoped that would be able to post the fastest time among all classes. It didn't help that he was running by himself. Runner-up Ford McCoy of St. Joseph's was nearly a minute behind in 16:32.
However, Williams' reaction to the team title indicated that was his preference.
"I'm so proud of these guys," he said. "I pushed them so hard, and I feel like they were mad at me all season, but we did it, and I think it all pays off. I think it's going to be a huge motivator for them for the next couple years, because they still have a lot of talent on that team."
The Blazers had five of the top 13 finishers -- thus five on the all-state team -- and 35 points. Christ Church was second with 59.
For GMC, Jacob Hudson was sixth in 17:11, Chandler Schell seventh in 17:20, Ryan Hofmann eighth in 17:25 and Christian Dunn 13th in 17:39.
The Class A girls team champion was St. Joseph's for the fifth year in a row, and the individual winner was St. Joseph's eighth-grader Annika Bissinger for the second year in a row.
Bissinger finished in 18:44. Southside Christian's Ashleigh Keiser was second in 18:52.
"Besides being so talented physically as a runner, she is mentally tough," St. Joseph's coach Marie Kernell said of Bissinger.
"I had a really bad cramp the whole time, and France Wavro was pushing me the whole time, so thank you to her," Bissinger said of Christ Church's Wavro, who came in third.
"I just tried to push as hard as I could, thinking this is the last race of the season, I don't have to run for another year, besides track, so when I got to 800 meters left, I just tried to sprint and say, 'You know what? I don't have to endure any more pain for a while now.'"
The Knights, with 38 points, had to fend off Southside Christian, which had 45.
"I wasn't surprised we won, but everybody else is bringing it, so we've got to bring it even more," said Kernell.
St. Joseph's had three others on the all-state team: Sara Catherine Masaschi (fourth, 19:03), Ashlyn Bayadi (fifth, 19:05) and Bailey Mullins (12th, 20:13), and Hannah White (16th, 20:41) just missed.
"All this young talent," said Kernell. "Next year, I'll come back with the same team."
That brings us to the Class AA sweep registered by Academic Magnet, which will bring back four of the top five finishers from both teams that won championships Saturday.
A year after the school won its first state championship in boys cross country, the boys repeated and the girls won their first title.
The Academic Magnet boys were dominant. Junior Hayden DiBona was the individual champion in 16:08, teammate Trace Hall was the runner-up in 16:21 and the Raptors Dylan Robinson and Kyle McGue were fifth (16:48) and eighth (16:52), respectively.
They finished with 36 points. Waccamaw was second with 101.
"Me and my teammate, Trace Hall, got out together and really ran side by side for a long time," DiBona said. "That was a really good feeling to be able to run with him.
"Coming through the first mile we felt pretty good. The second mile hurt, but we were looking pretty good on the time. Then the third mile was just all effort. It was good. Coach (Brian Johnson) just pushed me through that one."
DiBona won a state title in the 3,200 meters in track in May, but he said, "This is the one that really means the most to me."
"This is the one that I've been wanting for a long time, and I finally got it today," he said, "and I wouldn't have gotten this far without my teammates and my coaches, who are with me all the way. They're fantastic."
As for the Academic Magnet girls, they finished with 72 points. Runner-up Waccamaw had 102.
The Raptors had three on the all-state team: Kristin Fairey (third, 19:25, Megan Kolbe (eighth, 20:04) and Carly Hall (11th, 20:14).
Although Waccamaw was second, the Warriors did have the individual winner in junior Amelia Jones, who repeated as champion with a PR of 18:53.
"I knew I had to get past the first mile, because that's always the toughest," Jones said. "My goal was to get high 18s, and (Pelion's) Antoinette Fulton was with me the entire time and stayed strong, and right when we hit the beginning of the hill, she went, and I thought that was it, and so I just tried to go with her as good as I could.
"We watched an inspirational video, 'Facing the Giants,' a couple days ago, and my coach started screaming lines from it. I started to get a gap, and a bigger gap and a bigger gap, and once I realized I was at 17:02 with a little over a 400 left, I just tried to go.
"I felt good. My arms were tired, but I just tried to open up everything, my strides, my arms. I felt amazing. And my old teammate, Grace Barnett (now competing at Clemson), came back, and that's always such a great help for me, because she's my inspiration, who I would like to run like one day.
"I've been trying to go for a repeat. As soon as I crossed the finish line, it was like a weight lifted off my shoulders."