A year ago, Heathwood Hall’s Brooke Grice had mixed emotions at the SCISA state cross country meet. The Highlanders’ star emerged as an individual champion but was disappointed by the failed quest for a team title.
On Saturday at Hammond, the roles were reversed — and Grice could not have been happier.
Grice lost her personal battle with Pinewood Prep seventh-grader Maryah Nasir, but the senior leader paced the Highlanders to their first SCISA championship in 11 years.
“Yes, I wanted to win again, but getting the team championship makes up for it,” she said. “I think we learned a lot from not winning last year. We worked harder, and it showed.”
Last season, the top-ranked Highlanders had three all-state runners but came up short due to lack of support from the bottom of the lineup.
“Our focus since the state meet last year was on the concept of pack running, of developing the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh runners as consistent performers,” Highlanders coach Willis Ware said. “The results have been there. We’ve had seven girls break 21 minutes this season. We’re much stronger overall as a team, but all the training and work doesn’t matter much if you don’t perform in the big meet. That’s something we did today and we didn’t last year.
“To see the lessons learned and put into practice is thrilling.”
The only thing that might have made it better was if the Highlanders had broken the title drought on their home course. Instead, the venue was changed to neighboring Hammond to avoid traffic problems caused by a noon kickoff for the South Carolina-Tennessee football game at nearby Williams-Brice Stadium.
Grice finished second with a time of 19 minutes, 12.38, good for second place behind Nasir’s 19:10.68.
“Brooke has been our anchor since she was in eighth grade,” said Ware. “Her leadership and work ethic has helped develop the expectation of success in the program.”
Sydney Ellen backed Grice with a third-place finish in 19:14.60, but the difference came from support runners Harriet Rogers (11th, 20:38.36), Katie Beach (12th, 20:44.66) and Madison Mason (13th, 20:55.83).
Heathwood Hall's boys headliner was Stephen Ridley, who led all Midlands entries to the finish line. He was third behind the Porter-Gaud duo of Brent Demarest and Cameron Kane with a time of 17:15.65.
Hammond’s girls had a strong showing with a second-place finish, 13 points behind Heathwood’s winning total of 47 points. All-state runs by Catherine Herring (fourth, 19:37.38) and Ella Bristow (ninth, 20:16.77) set the tone for the Skyhawks.
Hammond's good day also included a Midlands-best third-place finish in the boys division and an all-state effort by Bristow Richards (seventh, 17:47.51).
Caroline Gasser (eighth, 20:16.56) of Cardinal Newman rounded out the area’s all-state contingent.