COLUMBIA — James Island’s youthful girls team salvaged what was shaping up as a dreary Lowcountry performance on Saturday at the annual state cross country championships at Sandhills Research Park.
The second-ranked Trojans became the school’s first state championship team with a lineup featuring one sophomore, five freshmen and one seventh-grader. James Island, which cracked the top 10 for the first time with an eighth-place finish last year, finished with a 72-83 winning margin over Hilton Head.
“We’ve been flirting with the idea (of seriously competing for a state championship) since we started practice in the summer, but we really didn’t know what to expect because we’re so young,” said James Island coach David Lee.
“We felt a top five finish would be realistic, but as the season went on and the girls got stronger physically and mentally, we began to think that we had a shot at winning this thing.”
Freshman Mary Stewart Wilson and sophomore Sam Bergeson led the Trojans with all-state runs. Wilson finished fourth, while Bergeson placed 13th. The margin of victory, however, came from freshmen Summer Smith (16th), Katherine Rickels (18th) and Emma Dupree (21st).
Defending champion Wando could only manage a fourth-place finish in the Class AAAA girls final. Defending champion Bishop England finished fourth in the Class AA boys race, dooming the Bishops’ bid for a fourth title in the last five years.
Finishing two spots ahead of Bishop England was Academic Magnet, which was the Class AA boys runner-up. The Raptors were led by Hayden DiBona, Ryan Bing and Thomas Trouche.
Academic Magnet’s Lucie Kulze and Bishop England’s Cristian Widenhouse claimed Class AA individual titles.
Kulze, who returned to cross-country running this season for the first time since her freshman year, went out on top with a winning time of 19:06.56 — a personal record.
“I’ve been running for most of my life, but I never really enjoyed the competitive aspect of it, so I stepped away,” she said. “I only came back out of personal motivation — to find out what I was capable of achieving.”
Widenhouse trailed defending champion Omar Sharif of Eau Claire by 10 meters at about the three-mile mark, and was shocked to see Sharif collapse at about the 3-mile mark and did not finish.
“It was a scary thing to see,” he said. “I had a lot of things going through my mind.
“Do I stop or do I keep going? My training kicked in. I cleared my mind and went on. This was something I’ve been gearing up for since last year and when an opportunity came my way I had to take advantage of it.”
Widenhouse, who led the pack on the same course a week ago at the Lower State qualifier, clocked in at 16:25.65 — the second fastest time of his career.