Ashley Hall cross country coach Gail Bailey celebrated her 70th birthday a day early as she watched her team capture the SCISA girls AAA state championship on Saturday at the state meet in Columbia.
The Panthers claimed four of the top six individual places to easily win their first state title since 2010 with 31 points. Senior Morgan Lee led the charge, finishing third overall by running her career best time at the Heathwood Hall course. Junior Lauren Marshall was right behind in fourth, with senior Sarah Eustis finishing fifth and freshman Caroline Mathisen claimed sixth.
“This is a culmination of a lot of hard work and dedication,” Bailey said. “I could see it in their eyes this morning. They were serious about today and I had a good feeling we would perform well.”
While entering as the favorite, based on the times posted during the regular season, Bailey was not over-confident heading into the biggest meet of the season.
“We’ve been the favorite before and have come up short so a coach never takes anything for granted,” Bailey said. “You have to show up and get the job done when it counts and this team did that. This is a wonderful accomplishment and I’m so happy for our seniors. I really wanted it for them.”
Lee was one of those key senior leaders, not only this season but throughout her career. She was an eighth-grader on the last title team.
“I was really focused today and I ran my best race at state but this is really about our team,” said Lee, headed to the University of South Carolina next year. “This is an individual sport but really the team goal is the big thing. I love competing with my team and we’re very close. We wanted this as a team.”
Porter-Gaud finished fifth in the girls team standings. Pinewood Prep’s Katie Black earned all-state honors with a fourth-place individual finish. Former Pinewood Prep star Maryah Nasir, who transferred to Heathwood Hall this year, won the AAA state individual title with a state record time of 18:16.85.
Porter-Gaud’s boys team finished as the AAA state runner-up, losing in a tie-breaker with Wilson Hall. The Cyclones and Barons each finished with 69 points on five scoring runners. The tie-breaker is the sixth runner and Wilson Hall edged Porter-Gaud by eight spots.
The Cyclones placed two runners in the top 10 — Ben McElveen in sixth and Cameron Ward in 10th. Pinewood Prep’s Raymond Mennetti finished fourth overall while his team finished fourth in the team standings.
In the class A finals, Coastal Christian sophomore Shelly Martin won the individual title while Pace Delaney of James Island Christian finished fourth. Also earning all-state honors with top 10 finishes were Lydia English (eighth) of James Island Christian and Zaley Dobbs (10th) of Ridge Christian.
James Island Christian finished third in the Class A boys standings, led by Darren Frasier’s fourth-place finish.