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Westminster varsity cross country continues its dominant reign over the AAAA division


As the final times and placements were announced, the boys cross country team realized that not only had they won their 7th consecutive state title and 2nd all-class state title, but they also had cemented themselves as the best team in Georgia cross country history. 

On Nov. 4 at Carrollton High School, the boys and girls cross country teams competed in the 4A state championship meet with hopes to continue their long history of success. The seven girls who represented Westminster were seniors Frazier Braintwain, Sydney Watson, and Ava Ramsey who placed 17th, 39th, and 41st respectively; juniors Lucy Johnson and Anna Wickliffe who placed 13th and 46th place respectively; and sophomore Colby Freiden and freshman Luca Plyler who placed 50th and 26th respectively. The seven boys who represented Westminster were seniors Joseph Jacquot, Esfan Daya, Gideon Zemedhun, and Nicholas Guido who placed 1st, 2nd, 11th, and 46th respectively; junior Liam Loughead and sophomores Jacob Jacquot and Rohan Gazula who placed 26th, 4th, and 32nd respectively. The girls team placed 5th overall while the boys team not only won their AAAA division, but also ran the fastest times across all GHSA classifications and in Georgia history.

 “The state race was a challenge with it being a tough course and with the weather being on the warmer side,” said captain Joseph Jacquot. “Even with that, the team didn’t let that or anything change our mindset.”

However, along with these incredible feats came many challenges that both teams needed to overcome. The greatest obstacle that the boys team had to overcome was the many injuries that affected members of the team, including a stress fracture in Joseph Jacquot’s foot, the most preeminent runner in Westminster history. This year, he shattered the previous Westminster state record by almost 30 seconds, a difference that becomes even more impressive when considering that the average spread between records is usually only 1 to 2 seconds. Similarly, Guido was injured for the majority of last season; however, this did not stop him from returning stronger this year and shaving an astounding 3 minutes off his previous personal record. Lastly, another stress fracture injury that lasted most of the season, including during state, was that of senior Willem Mandel, a pivotal member of the state team last year. Aside from injuries, another unexpected challenge for the boys team was the absence of the legendary head coach Joe Tribble during the final weeks of the season. To combat this hurdle, the captains, assistant coaches, and many underclassmen all had to step up and lead together. 

“Despite all of the injuries we had to deal with, Esfan really stepped up as our top runner,” said sophomore Nicholas Tepper. “When Esfan was sick and could not show up, Jacob Jacquot had to step up. We had many different people step up throughout the season.”

 Despite these injuries, other runners on the team also rose to the occasion to fill in the void and showcase their improvement: Junior Liam Loughead went from being a state alternate last season to placing 26th at this season’s state meet. 

The boys team’s historical performance at the state championship was also due to their coaching throughout the season, as each coach played an integral role in the team’s success. Coach Tribble, with his 40 years of experience, helped the team develop physically and mentally while emphasizing strategies for the team to implement. An important strategy utilized was running groups, which not only prevents opposing runners from passing but also motivates other individuals in the pack. Additionally, Tribble created a unique training method for practices that involved running fewer miles than other schools but at a much higher intensity. This technique proved to be extremely effective. 

“Coach Tribble is a very motivational guy,” said Daya. “It’s just his coaching style and he’ll do whatever it takes to make you the best runner possible.” 

Coach Jason Vuckovic, deemed the “master timer,” also massively contributed to organizing meets, measuring out courses, and obtaining accurate timings for each runner to allow them to track their progress throughout the season. While Vuckovic was timing each runner, coach Mitchell Griest was responsible for pushing runners to decrease their times. He is known for running grueling practices with the team and always motivating them to challenge their limits. Following their performance this season, the boys team hopes to continue breaking records and maintaining their spot as one of the most prominent teams in the nation.

Similarly, the girls team endured various challenges. First, the team had a “reset” year with six of the seven members of the 2022 girls state cross country team having graduated. This meant that captains Braintwain, Ramsey, Sylvia Beaver, and Johnson had to step up to lead the team. 

“I improved as a leader this year by improving my mindset and choosing to focus less on myself and more on the team,” said Ramsey. “I tried to help other girls who are newer to cross country by calming them down before races, improving their ability to run well, and encouraging them to push themselves.”

Additionally, this year marked the end of coach Amy Eubanks’ time as the head coach of the girls cross country team and marked the beginning for the new head coach Emily Fuqua. With the loss of an experienced leader and many pivotal runners, the team had to prioritize reworking and adjusting their former system to adapt to the new changes. Despite these hurdles, the team still saw massive improvement. 

“All runners began to feel that the workouts became easier as the season went on,” said Ramsey. 

This progress became even more apparent at the end of the season when all 100 girls on the team were able to run the entire 5K, a truly remarkable feat of endurance. This new season also allowed many underclassmen, like freshman Luca Plyler, to show their dominance on the course, as she ran the third fastest time on the state team while nursing an injury. Her impressive time of 21:16, along with the fact that she is only a freshman, suggests that she will undoubtedly play a massive role in the team’s success in the future. 

Furthermore, each coach also played a very important role in the team’s success by helping the team adapt to the many changes that occurred over the past season. 

“Fuqua added a new energy… she provided the team with a new variety of workouts and overall had an upbeat, fun personality,” said Ramsey. 

Fuqua’s history as a previous Westminster runner allowed her to connect with the team, as she was able to use her wisdom to relate to the runners in a special manner. 

“Eubanks is almost like the foundation of the team, and, for a lot of us, she feels like a grandmother… she’s very loving,” said Ramsey. 

Assistant coach Anna Major, who was with the team last season, was instrumental from a logistical standpoint. Her calm and collected demeanor, as well as experience and organization, tremendously helped the girls plan their meets and focus on their goals for this season. Following a season of big changes and adjustments, including the new 4A classification, the girls team hopes to take the lessons they learned this year and further their progress with Fuqua next year.

As the cross country season comes to an end, both teams hope to reflect on their accomplishments these past few months in preparation for the next season.

Edited by Helen Slawson

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