Oconee County High School’s cross-county boys and girls teams both finished in the top three at the state competition in Carrollton two weeks ago.
After winning the regional meet with both teams, first-year head coach Jake Forrester and his teams had high hopes for a better end to the season.
“We were shooting for the title,” Forrester said. “We always have high expectations, so there was a little disappointment, just like anybody who's contending for a championship.”
The girls team finished second overall, led by three top 10 finishes from sixth place sophomore Molly Meeks (20:45.07), seventh place junior Sydney Matthews (20:47.72) and 10th place senior Phoebe Broderick (21:03.57). Two other Warriors, Kensley McConnell and Charli Matthews, finished in the top 20 and put Oconee in very close competition with the Westminster School. Westminster won by only 8 points to win its eighth consecutive state title.
The boys team finished third overall in state. Junior Scott Seuser (17:15.85) finished in 11th place and senior Jack Stansell (17:20.82) finished in 12th place.
Forrester didn’t know if he’d be able to see the cross-country season from beginning to end, but in reflection said that it “flew by.”
“June 8 seems like it was a few weeks ago,” Forrester said. “It seems like we were just figuring out all the different COVID restrictions and all the different things that we had to do in order to even have a season.”
Forrester was allowed to start training on June 8and he and his team lived with uncertainty ever since. While the season didn’t end how the Warriors would’ve liked, his team has pride in accomplishing what it did in the face of adversity.
“Especially being my first year as the head coach, I couldn't feel anything but extreme pride and extreme joy for what my teams accomplished,” Forrester said. “What they battled through and the adversity that they overcame this season, it was more than I could ever ask for.”
Forrester had been an assistant for the Warriors’ cross-country team for eight years but took the head coaching job this past year. He will also be a first-time assistant track coach next year, helping out the distance program.
For some, the end of the cross-country season is only a rest before track season, but for three Warriors, there was no rest at all.
All seven members of the girls state team was invited to the Meet of Champions invite-only race in Fayetteville, but only Meeks and Matthews went and competed on Nov. 14. Meeks ran a new personal record (19:54.06), improving her old record by 21 seconds, and Matthews ran faster than her state time as well.
“It's the most competitive field in the state of Georgia,” Forrester said. “I was very proud of them for what they did.”
Stansell continued his training since the end of the season to be ready for the RunningLane Cross County Championship race in Huntsville, Alabama, this weekend. Forrester says Stansell “is pumped to run on one of the fastest courses in the nation,” and the RunningLane website advertises the course as “the fastest 5k cross county course in the Southeast.”
Forrester expects hard running and overcoming adversity from his runners every year, and they’ve almost always delivered. This year was a little different, because everyone was presented with extreme adversity.
Just like normal, Forrester and his runners put their heads down and went to work.
“They really did a phenomenal job of quieting all the noise around them this year and then focusing in on the task at hand to achieving their goals.” Forrester said.