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Girls cross country ‘runs wild,’ wins

Girls cross country ‘runs wild,’ wins

It was impossible for spectators watching the state race to not come down with “Run Wild” fever as the fourth fastest state team in girls cross country history took home the first place trophy from Carrollton.

The girls won the 2011-12 GHSA state cross country championship in the AA Division, defeating rivals Blessed Trinity and Lovett for the fourth time and taking home the fifth first-place trophy of the season. The entire team, decked out in “Run Wild” t-shirts and black and green sunglasses, went up to accept the trophy for the third year in a row. The Wildcats beat Blessed Trinity in the state meet 35-68, after beating them by only 10 points in the regular season. Lovett came in a distant third with 84 points and North Oconee in fourth with 131.

Winning state championships is no new occurrence for the girls team. The 2011 state meet marked the 17th win the team has earned in the last 20 years. And it was an exciting one, involving the strength of the whole team, underclassmen and leading veterans alike. Junior Sahara Fletcher, despite an injury-filled season, won her third consecutive individual state title, coming in first place with a time of 19:08.89, almost 30 seconds before the second-place finisher. The depth of the team, however, was what earned Westminster the win. Junior Martha Stuart Fuqua finished sixth with a time of 19:53.12, sophomore Kay Crawford 12th with a time of 20:27.32, junior Emily Fuqua 14th with a time of 20:33.35, junior Janine DePree 17th with a time of 20:48.95, and junior Sara McGahan 24th with a time of 21:22.51. With an average time of 19:55, this state team was the fourth fastest in girls cross country history.

Yet, perhaps the most incredible performance of the race was that of senior Michelle Sullivan. Sullivan, who did not make the top 20 last year, finished second with a time of 19:33.20. She passed two runners in the last 400 meters to claim the silver medal, including BT’s number one runner who had beaten her by three seconds in the Region 6-AA meet the week before.

“That was definitely the most exciting part of the race,” said senior captain Sydney Laseter. “Michelle and I really formed a bond over this past season, and I started crying when she came down the last hill. I’m unbelievably proud of her.”

Girls cross country coach Amy Eubanks agrees, having seen Sullivan’s progression as a runner.

“Just two weeks earlier, her time had been 20:14, so it was an incredible drop. Her progress in the last four years is something I’ll never forget. It’s what makes coaching fun.”

Sullivan consistently improved this season, running in either the one or two spot for the girls. Starting off her freshman year as a middle of the pack runner, Sullivan earned her first spot on the state team and a silver medal.

A key moment of the state race was Crawford’s finish. The sophomore, new to the team, battled it out to the last second against Lovett’s third runner, crossing the finish line a mere two seconds in front of her.

Fuqua helped claim the victory, finishing sixth in the state meet after finishing 13th in regionals she beat Blessed Trinity’s number two runner who had finished fourth in regionals.

As Eubanks suggests, victory wasn’t achieved overnight. It took determination, persistence, and the drive to perform.

“Slowly but surely, the girls learned things about themselves, about how to race better,” said Eubanks. “Some days we did recovery runs, some long or short intervals, some distance—it varied.”

In addition to its exceptional performance, the team began the season with an exceptional size, with 114 members. It was the largest team in school history.

“It was difficult, but it was also a huge blessing,” said Laseter. “We had to put a lot of time into organizing pasta dinners and getting funds. It was worth it.

The success of the program can be attributed to the work of Eubanks.

“The fact that she can manage so many girls and win state every year is very impressive,” said Laseter.

“With 114 girls, I had to look at it one week at a time—I wanted to do the best we could with what we had,” said Eubanks. Together, the runners built a great support system. Cross country, in a sense, became a way of life.

“The best part wasn’t the running—it was the friendship, the sisterhood,” Laseter said. “When I was in junior high, I legitimately tried to break my ankle to get out of running because I was the slowest. But cross country has probably been the best experience of my high school career. Even though the practices were hard, I’m glad I pushed myself.”

It’s easy to imagine that if the girls cross country team does continue to push itself, with so many returning runners, more championships will lie ahead.

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