Heredity, leadership play roles in Knights’ success

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COLUMBIA -- St. Joseph's girls cross country coach Marie Kernell watched her team win its sixth consecutive Class A championship Saturday with two runners who were pretty much new to the sport this season.

Photo by Zoe Wade for scrunners

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Freshman Katherine Uprichard was injured at the beginning of last season and never had the chance to compete, and seventh-grader Caroline Linen had never run before.

Uprichard finished ninth (20:37) and Linen 10th (20:38) in the state meet at Sandhills Research Center.

"Both of them are mentally tough," Kernell said. "They're soccer players. They have athletic parents."

Ah, heredity. Can't beat it.

As is often the case, running was passed on in the Linen family.

"Both of her parents ran cross country. Her grandparents ran cross country," Kernell said. "When

Caroline's mom came to our first meeting, she said, 'I ran cross country and was on a couple state championship teams, and then my dad ran cross country,' and I was like, 'I'm signing her up right now.' Do I love genes! And not the blue jeans!"

Then there's freshman Annika Bissinger, the state champion each of the past two years and the runner-up Saturday.

"Annika's mother was a track thrower in college," Kernell said. "Both of her parents are athletic. She plays two sports. She travels the country on a soccer team. She goes from cross country practice to soccer practice, and she'll go from a meet to a game, so she's got a lot going on."

Bissinger still mustered up enough energy to run a 19:33, second only to Greer Middle College freshman Morgan Summey's 18:44.

Of course, it's not all about genes.

Kernell said senior captains Sara Catherine Masaschi, Hannah White and Bailey Mullins did a wonderful job of steering the younger Knights in the right direction.

"As a coach, you can say and lead," Kernell said. "It means a lot from the coach, but I think the peer leadership is the key to success. And I always have more than one captain. I think they need to be a group and to feed off each other."

Masaschi (20:35) and White (20:58) also made the all-state team, finishing eighth and 15th, respectively.

--- St. Joseph's became just the second girls team in the history of the state meet to win six consecutive state championships. Irmo, which, which won six in a row from 1977-1982, is the other.

The Riverside and Spartanburg boys programs still have more titles, with 12 and seven, respectively, and Riverside still holds the state record with 11 in a row from 1987-1997.

--- Summey, in just her second year of running, kept pace with Bissinger for about the first two miles and then "went all out." She said she didn't mind that she was off on her own down the stretch.

"The whole race I was fighting with myself," she said. "It was all about me and trying to beat my time and doing the best I could."

Her time of 18:44 was her second-best behind the 18:23 she ran in the Greenville County meet at Hillcrest two weeks ago.

--- The St. Joseph's boys won state titles in 2012 and 2013 and then watched Greer Middle College win last year. Apparently that didn't sit well with the Knights, who ran with a vengeance Saturday and placed five in the top 11.

St. Joseph's, led by state champion Ford McCoy, won with a score of 24 points.

Knights coach George Carr dedicated the title to seniors Jeffrey Fann, Carter Powell, Nathan Petrofes and David Asbury.

"Some teams struggle with senior complacency," Carr said. "Not these guys. They came through for everybody."

Fann, who had never run cross country before, finished third (17:21) and Powell was fourth (17:31). Freshman Zac Palmer was 11th (17:56).

McCoy, runner-up to current Clemson runner Micah Williams last year, made the all-state team for the fifth time.

"I'm just so thankful for my friends, my family, my teammates, my coach and God," McCoy said. "They've just blessed me with everything, and I'm so thankful for them."

--- The Academic Magnet boys won in Class AA for the third year in a row, and for the third straight year, the Raptors had all five runners finish in the top 20.

Academic Magnet senior Hayden DiBona repeated as champion with the same time (16:08) as the previous year, and classmate Dylan Robinson -- sixth in 2013, fifth in 2014 -- was fourth in 16:52.

Also for the Raptors, Colin Baker was sixth (17:01), Melker Annas was seventh (17:10) and Lyle Johnson was 11th (17:15).

--- In Class AA girls, Amelia Jones led Waccamaw to the state title and became just the sixth girl to win as many as three consecutive individual state championships.

Jones, who crossed in 19:21, also led Waccamaw to its first championship after runner-up finishes in 2011, 2012 and 2014.