Athletes of the Year_Colin Baker and Hannah Vroon.JPG

Academic Magnet's Colin Baker and James Island's Hannah Vroon are the cross country All-Lowcountry athletes of the year. Lauren Petracca/Staff

Even before his running career took off, Academic Magnet’s Colin Baker set the bar very high early on.

Baker came from Pinewood Prep to Academic Magnet as a freshman and immediately connected with his coach, Brian Johnson, to tell him of the goals he had set for himself as a runner.

“One of the first things he told me when we began working together was that he wanted to qualify for Foot Locker nationals as a senior,” Johnson said. “All of his work and training since then was for the long term development.”

Baker achieved that goal set so many years earlier. After winning the Class AAA state gold medal at the state cross country championships in November, with one of the fastest times (14:48) in state history, Baker set his sights on qualifying for the biggest event of his prep career. He qualified for the Foot Locker national championships with a fourth-place finish as the regional qualifier in Charlotte.

On December 8th, Baker finished eighth in a field of 40 top runners from across the country, marking the highest-ever finish for a South Carolina prep runner in the 40-year history of the event.

Baker's season earned him the title of The Post and Courier's All-Lowcountry cross country runner of  the year for boys. James Island's Hannah Vroon, who registered a top 10 finish at the Class AAAAA state meet as just a seventh grader, is the girls' runner of the year.

Baker's performance highlighted a strong year for Lowcountry boys runners. James Island's Dolan Owens won the Class AAAAA state meet in 15:40.15, and Noah Ward of Philip Simmons took the Class AA title in 15:40.30. At the AAA meet, Bishop England placed three runners in the top nine behind Baker, with Sam Boykin second, Logan Desciak fourth and Aidan Richter in ninth on the way to a team state title.

Baker's self-motivation makes him a strong example for younger runners, Johnson said.

“He’s a talented runner but his work ethic and dedication are second to none,” Johnson said. “He really set a strong example for our younger guys, just by showing them how to train and how to commit to getting better and faster. He does research on his own about different training methods and has really educated himself as a runner.

“His focus is amazing. I coached 14 years in college before I came to Magnet and I haven’t had many that had the drive and determination to achieve his goals that Colin has.”

Goal-setting and winning has been a part of Baker’s running life for the last three years. He has two individual state titles and a state runner-up finish in cross country. In track, Baker has won the 3200 meter run in each of the last two years while finishing second in the 1600 meter run.

“I’ve always been goal-oriented,” Baker says. “Setting a goal and having that goal in my mind makes it easier to train. I love competing against other runners and myself. I love the work involved, the training. It’s just something I’ve always enjoyed.”

Baker, who will attend Harvard in the fall to begin work on a degree in the medical field of study, has more goals to achieve as a high school runner before taking on the next level. He wants to sweep gold medals in the 1600 and 3200 runs at the 2019 state track and field championships. He took two days off after his appearance at the Foot Locker nationals and began training for the track season.

“The nice thing about running is I can get it done in an hour or hour and a half,” Baker said. “Other sports, you might be training or practicing for three hours. When I’m running, it doesn’t ever seem like work. It’s just a part of my daily life.”

James Island's Vroon surprised herself at the Class AAAAA state meet, running a time of 19:05.91 over the 5-K course for an eighth place finish. Teammate Amelia Carson was close behind in 19:16.62, helping the Trojans to a sixth-place finish overall.

Vroon, also a top-level soccer player, proved a natural when her mom signed her up for a track program in fifth grade.

"I loved it a lot," she said. "And when I did cross country conditioning that summer, the coach told me I had a natural gift for it."

Vroon runs about four to five miles a day, on top of soccer practice and matches. Her immediate goal in running is pretty simple.

"I want to set the high school record at James Island while I'm still in middle school," she said. "That would be pretty cool."

BE coach Tony Colizzi, whose team won the boys' AAA state title, is the boys coach of the year. James Island coach David Lee, whose girls team was sixth and whose boys were second in Class AAAAA, is the girls' coach of the year along with Porter-Gaud's Hugh Knight, whose team won the SCISA state title.

ALL-LOWCOUNTRY CROSS COUNTRY TEAM

Boys First Team

Colin Baker, Academic Magnet

Won AAA state meet in 14:48.53 for 5K

Dolan Owens, James Island

Won AAAAA state meet in 15:40.15

Noah Ward, Philip Simmons

Won AA state meet in 15:40.30

Sam Boykin, Bishop England

Second in AAA state meet in 15:54.18

Zane Jackson, Palmetto Scholars

Second in AA state meet in 15:59.97

Dawson Wright, Fort Dorchester

Fifth in AAAAA state meet in 16:06.40

Daniel Munoz, Wando

10th in AAAAA state meet in 16:17.77

Nicolas Danielski, Ashley Ridge

14th in AAAAA state meet in 16:21.85

Honorable Mention

Fort Dorchester: Wyatt Hall, Matthrew Osean, Landon Koch; Wando: Doug Carson, Sam Boyles, Carson Archie; Summerville: Daren Lagasca, Noah Woodbury; James Island: Owen Morillo, Samuel Lamar, Darren Frasier, Hudson Graham; Stratford: Jack Taylor, Amarion Martin; Bishop England: Logan Desciak, Mark Ricther, Colin Costello, Daniel Infante; Academic Magnet: Kristopher Gholson, Lyle Johnson, Andre De Arellano; Porter-Gaud: Ben McElveen; Palmetto Christian: Hamilton Blair.

Girls First Team

Hannah Vroon, James Island

8th in AAAAA state meet in 19:05.91

Bryce Marion, Porter-Gaud

2nd in SCISA state meet in 19:07.23

Hailey Meyers, Philip Simmons

3rd in AA state meet in 19:15.88

Amelia Carson, James Island

11th in AAAAA state meet in 19:16.62

Rachel Branch, Wando

18th in AAAAA state meet in 19:34.34

Chloe Elebash, Porter-Gaud

3rd in SCISA state meet in 19:39.22

Ryann Thompson, James Island

32nd in AAAAA state meet in 19:57.62

Lizzie Naval, Summerville

37th in AAAAA state meet in 20:02.90

Honorable Mention

Summerville: Sydney Greer, Caroline Raglin, Sulli Long; Fort Dorchester: Megan Studley, Eden Apgar; Stratford: Alyssa Davis; Wando: Lily Heinhold, Zoe Carpenter; Ashley Ridge: Betsy Erickson; James Island: Chloe Gilbert; Cane Bay: Emily Trotter, Melanie Murray; Colleton County: Sierra Obenaus; Academic Magnet: Kate Kuisel; Hanahan: Kylie Futrell; Bishop England: Mary Wall Rainero; Philip Simmons: Josie May; Woodland: Katylyn Sweatman; Porter-Gaud: Kennedy Burnett, Connor McMahon, Leslie Holt, Georgia Arnold; Pinewood Prep: Elin Fields, Amber Farrell; Ashley Hall: Brice Tibbals; Palmetto Christian: Alexa Schaaf, Addison Hewitt, Ella Banks.