In a year where everything was unexpected in sports, the new cross-country coaches at North Oconee High School did what was expected of them.
They helped improve an already good program.
Senior Davis Potts finished in first place in Class AAAA last weekend during the state competition in Carrollton with a 5k time of 16:16.66.
Potts’ individual success helped the Titans boys’ team earn sixth place overall.
Freshman Ava Caldwell finished in sixth place with a time of 20.44.71, helping lift the girls team to a third-place finish in state.
“[Potts] has a couple schools in mind that he is potentially wanting to go to,” North Oconee boys coach Charlie Sparks said. “He's been looking at some D1 schools and he's kind of known he needed to run a little faster, but I think this weekend really gave him a good big push that he needed, especially doing it on a tough course that Carrollton is.”
Potts was the fastest runner at state, but he wasn’t the only Titan running hard.
The girls’ team lost to Flowery Branch in the region competition two weeks ago by 9 points but beat the Falcons by 14 at state.
“We knew it'd be a tough thing for us to beat Marist and Jefferson,” North Oconee girls coach Heather Grace said. “We set our sights on that third place and beating Flowery Branch and I'll just say our girls stepped up and every single one of them ran hard and every single one of them worked at that state meet and we ended up beating Flowery Branch. When they announced that we were third, it was just such an exciting moment.”
Grace has coached track and cross-country for 24 years.
Sparks is in the middle of his fourth-year coaching.
The two coaches took over for the Titans teams after Ralph Moore retired last spring. Moore had coached at North Oconee since it opened in 2004.
“Lots of credit to Ralph Moore,” Grace said. “He really established a great program at North and Coach Sparks and I inherited a really, really good team. So, we were lucky in that respect and then we just built on that.”
Compared to last year, both the boys and girls teams improved three placements in final state standings.
The teams were carried by lineups of mostly seniors, but three underclassmen have helped the girls’ team all season.
Freshmen Emily Smith and Caldwell both ran at state.
Smith did not finish due to injury.
Sophomore Gately Hawkins ran at region but did not run at state.
“[Hawkins] actually ran varsity at the region meet and had a really good time,” Grace said. “But her and Georgia Orman both typically run right around the same time and it came down to deciding who was going to be our seventh runner at state. When we talked to the two girls, Gately agreed with us that it was Georgia's last chance to run at state and because Georgia's a senior, Gately stepped aside.”
Orman finished sixth for the Titans and 34th overall.
Grace also said there was an understanding between the girls that the expectation is that the Titans and Hawkins will have another chance to race at state next year.
Runners will have one more unofficial event this season in two weekends, where they register as individuals in a 2-mile race.
“It's called the North Oconee Post Season Two Mile,” Sparks said. “Obviously with COVID-19 happening, a lot of 'end-of' postseason races that get kids really big exposure aren't happening. Especially for a lot of the seniors that lost their track season, their junior year was cut short. We've been trying to get them a little more exposure.”
The Titans hope that Potts will no longer be the only runner with collegiate options after the 2-mile race.
Runners from other schools, such as Oconee County High School and Jefferson High School, will be running as individuals.
Some teams will use the upcoming unofficial competition as the first event to prepare for the spring track season.