Finishing second at the Class 4A state girls cross country finals Saturday at Sandhills Research Center was hardly a consolation prize for the Dutch Fork Silver Foxes.
In fact, it was a meet that might define the course of the program in the future.
“We knew beating Riverside was going to be a tough task, but that was not really our ultimate goal,” Dutch Fork coach Barry Lindler said.
“We had five girls run their best races of the season, and that’s all a coach can ask. These girls did not wake up one day and start running fast. It takes years of hard work and they’ve done that. Hopefully, this is a springboard toward a level of consistency we’ve never had. The girls aren’t afraid of winning anymore.”
The Foxes had their best state team finish and state team score, finishing with 69 points behind Riverside’s run-away winning total of 33 points. Dutch Fork also had an individual bonanza of three all-state runners – eighth-grader Brianna Hartley (4th, 18:43), junior Hope Whisman (9th, 18:55) and eighth-grader Anna Jenkins (12th, 18:57).
“These girls bought into the program over the summer and have very high goals,” Lindler said. “I think they understand that they now belong at this level as long as they work and learn from practice to practice, race to race and season to season.”
Hartley was an admitted surprise leader of the pack with a time of 18:43.
“I didn’t expect this at all,” she said. “My best time of the year was 19:08, and this is a much tougher course. I just told myself that it was the last meet of the season and to put it all out there. I wanted to go run the first mile in six minutes. I got out faster and didn’t want to slow down, so I just kept going at that pace.”
The Midlands individual stars of the day were Pelion’s Antoinette Fulton and A.C. Flora’s Susannah Cate.
Fulton finished second to Waccamaw’s Amelia Jones for the second year in a row and became the ninth Midlands runner in all classes to produce at least four all-state performances (finishing in the top 15).
“I was planning to win today, but Amelia’s a very strong runner, and at the end she pulled away from me,” the Panthers junior said. “But I can’t be too disappointed, because I ran my best time on this course, and it’s a hard one.”
Fulton has one season left to go for the elusive goal of earning her first individual championship.
Cate, likewise, has another season of eligibility and a chance to assuage the disappointment of failing to defend her 2013 Class 3A title. Cate finished third this time around.
“It didn’t exactly go as I wanted,” she said. “My plan was to stay in front and build a lead, but that backfired at the end when I didn’t have anything left.”
Cate admitted she didn’t handle well the pressure of being the defending champ.
“It got into my head a little bit,” she said. “I think I’ll go back to pacing myself more next season like I did as a sophomore when I won. It will be nice not to have that pressure of having to repeat on me as much.”
Cate did lead the Falcons to their best state showing. Flora finished in third place with 147 points.