By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC
CARROLLTON – Not since former NFL receiver Terrell Owens famously performed sit ups and push ups in his driveway while reporters watched and peppered him with questions, has a mere workout been attended by so many.
But, according to McIntosh senior Sidney Speir, that’s exactly what happened Saturday at the Class AAAAA State Cross Country Championship finals, where he finished second to fellow Chief senior Brad Hort. Their one-two finish propelled McIntosh to its first boys championship since 1996.
Hort and Speir had been ranked as the top runners in the state for the better part of the season and were favored to be the top two finishers on Saturday. Speir said he takes the importance of the race out of the mix as a way of dealing with the pressure.
“I just think of it as just another meet, almost like it’s just a workout,” Speir said. “That way, I don’t feel the pressure at all.”
Hort, however, said he felt every ounce of the pressure lumped on his shoulders as the top runner in the classification.
“I definitely feel it. Your heart’s pumping and your adrenalin gets going, it’s just that runner’s high,” said Hort, who said the pressure drove him to run the first mile of the three-mile race too quickly. He hung on to finish first in a time of 16:22, 11 seconds ahead of Speir.
“That [fast start] hurt me over the last two [miles],” Hort said. “I tried to just say a prayer, settle in a focus.”
McIntosh beat out Flowery Branch for the title, a team that defeated the Chiefs at a meet earlier in the season when they were dealing with myriad injuries, according to head coach Chuck Buckle. McIntosh was without one of its top runners, junior Taylor Huntley, for the previous showdown with Flowery Branch.
“He had a hip flexor problem and so I sat him for three weeks in a row,” Buckle said. “I knew we had to have him healthy for the region and for the state meet. We had to deal with a lot of injuries this season.”
Huntley said he knew sitting out for nearly a month would pay off in the long run.
“[Buckle] has been coaching for a long time. He coached my mom,” said Huntley, whose 15th-place finish, along with top-40 finishes by teammates Artie McCarty (11th) and Andrew Jaeger (31st), helped lead McIntosh to the team win. “I knew he knew what was best for me.”
With a healthy squad, Hort said he and his teammates knew winning the title was possible.
“It’s something we talked about everyday,” he said. “We told each other we could do something big. Today it all came together and we did.”
Everything came together for the St. Pius as well, as the Lion boys and girls swept Class AAA, each claiming their third consecutive team title. Both squads were beaten at the Region 6AAA meet last week – the boys by Woodward Academy, and the girls by Blessed Trinity – but for two different reasons.
The boys had a case of “big-head syndrome” while the girls were missing one of the state’s top runners, senior Devon Dabney, who spent that week working out at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado.
“She didn’t want to leave her teammates, but I told her that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for you and you have to go,” St. Pius girls goach Debbie Guilbeau said. “I knew when we got her back and got [to Carrollton] we would be fine. This is our type of course. It’s a tough course and you have to give it that little bit extra.”
St. Pius boys coach Ryan McClay said his team lost focus during the season but got a wake up call when it lost at region, the Lions’ first lost to a AAA school since 2009. Saturday, St. Pius had four of the top five finishers, led by Austin Sprague, the individual champion.
“Sometimes when you have a lot of success, you can lose focus a bit. But that loss was the best thing that could have happened to us,” McClay said. “Today was the best I’ve seen us run since I’ve been coaching here.”
Matching St. Pius’ sweep was Marist in AAAA. The boys were paced by Michael Thurston and Daniel Navarro, who finished first and second, respectively. It was the War Eagle’s fourth title in five years, their eighth in the last 11.
The Marist girls, led by state champion Morgan Ilse (19:16), won their fifth consecutive crown, their 10th since 2000.
The Dunwoody girls, paced by state champion Alex Cameron (19:49) and Kailey Williams, who finished fourth, won the school’s first ever cross country team title.
In AAAAAA, Mill Creek won its first ever boys title as Tyler Woodrome (sixth) and Eric Westog (12th) finished in the top 15. Peachtree Ridge’s Josh Brickell was the individual titlist and had the fastest overall time of the meet at 15:55.
Brookwood won the AAAAAA girls championship behind the three-four finish of QuanDra Shanks and Payton Wilson. It was the Broncos first team championship since 1991. Allie Buchalski of Johns Creek was the individual champion and had the fastest girls time of the day at 18:46.
In AA, the Westminster and Wesleyan boys rekindled their rivalry as Wesleyan, which had won the last three Class A titles, moved into AA this season where Westminster had won three in a row. Westminster got strong finishes from Jordan Flowers (third), Graham Huff (seventh) and Harry O’Connor (eighth) to claim the championship. Model’s Chris Akins won the individual championship in 17:07.
The Wesleyan girls pulled the upset over Westminster and won their first state title since 2001. Caroline Reed (second) and Ellie Bradach (third) led the way for the Wolves. Westminster had won the last three team titles, and nine of the last 12. Emma Garrison of Union County won the individual title in 19:56.
1. Josh Brickell, Peachtree Ridge (15:55)
2. Nathan Riech, Milton (16:26)
3. Adel Yoonis, Wheeler (16:36)
4. Arman Rehman, Norcross (16:37)
5. Ben Pleak, Marietta (16:41)
1. Mill Creek
5. Peachtree Ridge
1. Allie Buchalski, Johns Creek (18:46)
2. Annie Kelly, Milton (18:57)
3. QuanDra Shanks, Brookwood (19:32)
4. Payton Wilson, Brookwood (19:44)
5. Leanne Zimmer, Lambert (19:51)
3. Peachtree Ridge
5. Mill Creek
1. Brad Hort, McIntosh (16:22)
2. Sidney Speir, McIntosh (16:33)
3. Chase Fowers, Lakeside-Evans (16:54)
4. Patrick Fleming, Pope (16:57)
5. Justin Weegar, Evans (17:03)
2. Flowery Branch
5. Starr’s Mill
1. Alex Cameron, Dunwoody (19:49)
2. Jenn Cora, Lakeside-DeKalb (20:08)
3. Hayley Keadey, Lakeside-DeKalb (20:12)
4. Kailey Williams, Sunwoody (20:15)
5. Caitlyn Connell, Winder-Barrow (20:18)
3. Flowery Branch
1. Michael Thurston, Marist (16:12)
2. Daniel Navarro, Marist (16:16)
3. Daniel Broadhead, Wayne County (16:32)
4. Hakeem Mustafaa, Shaw (16:43)
5. Jack Leahey, Marist (16:51)
3. Wayne County
1. Morgan Ilse, Marist (19:16)
2. Alyssa Weaver, Pickens County (19:50)
3. Leigh Ann Nix, Mary Persons (20:04)
4. Sarah Buckler, Heritage-Catoosa (20:09)
5. Kate Northrop, Marist (20:12)
5. Pickens County
1. Austin Sprague, St. Pius (16:26)
2. Calvin Tirrell, St. Pius (16:41)
3. Joseph Ferrugia, St. Pius (16:45)
4. Witt Nix, North Hall (16:46)
5. Andrew Anastasiades, St. Pius (17:08)
1. St. Pius
2. Woodward Academy
3. North Hall
4. Blessed Trinity
5. North Oconee
1. Jenna Gearing, White County (19:34)
2. Devon Dabney, St. Pius (20:21)
3. Margaret Crawford, St. Pius (20:23)
4. Anna Gandolfo, Blessed Trinity (20:38.44)
5. Victoria Rogers, North Hall (20:38.93)
1. St. Pius
2. Blessed Trinity
3. White County
4. Woodward Academy
5. North Hall
1. Chris Akins, Model (17:07)
2. Damien Porter, Chatooga (17:40)
3. Orlando Burgos, Heard County (17:48)
4. Jordan Flowers, Westminster (17:49)
5. Jeremy Webb, Union County (17:50)
3. Bleckley County
1. Emma Garrison, Union County (19:56)
2. Caroline Reed, Wesleyan (20:10)
3. Ellie Bradach, Wesleyan (20:30)
4. Charlotte Folinua, Westminster (20:38)
5. Ellen Powell, Bleckley County (20:48)
4. Bleckley County