It was a bittersweet finish for the Waccamaw girls cross country team Saturday.
The Warriors had to settle for second in the Class AA state meet in Columbia after losing a tiebreaker with Landrum.
Both teams finished with 68 points, but the Warriors’ sixth-place finisher was just under 9 seconds behind the Cardinals’ sixth-place runner, which settled the tie.
Nonetheless, Waccamaw repeated as runner-up.
“We ran way faster than what we ran last year. We would have won last year if we ran what we did today,” said first-year Warriors coach Brian White, who joined Waccamaw after coming from Byrnes. “That’s how tight the competition was.
“I was real proud of our girls. They responded really well. We had a great season. You can’t take that away. A lot of teams wish they could say they took second at state.”
Two area boys teams came close. Waccamaw took third in Class AA and Socastee was third in AAA.
However, it was the Waccamaw girls who stole the show.
Senior Grace Barnett took second (19:17.59) and two other Warriors – Amelia Jones (seventh, 20:14.10) and Rachel Thornton (15th, 20:46.46) – also earned all-state honors.
“I honestly thought we had a good chance of winning the whole thing,” White said. “We had a good year. The girls are running great. They put up phenomenal times and ran great races. They’ve been in every race we’ve been in this year. I was really hoping they’d bring home a state title.
“It was a disappointment, but it gives you fuel to say, ‘Look, we’ve got a chance to come back and do it all over again.’ I lose my top runner, but we’ve got a lot of good ones coming back.”
That top runner is Barnett, who was outpaced by only Academic Magnet’s Lucie Kulze, who left the field in the dust with a time of 19:06.56.
“Grace is a phenomenal runner. She is dedicated in everything she does. She takes it real seriously,” White said. “She’s truly a student of running. I know Grace is going to go on to do bigger things. She has all the potential in the world to do great things. We haven’t heard the last of her, I promise you that.”
As for the runners coming back, White expects Saturday’s outcome to play a big role in his team’s drive for next season.
“It’s going to make them hungry to come back and do it again,” he said.
Joe Grega’s Socastee boys squad was in what he called “a rebuilding year.” Well, turns out the Braves were fast learners – and runners.
Socastee took third place in the Class AAA meet, perhaps a year ahead of schedule.
“I knew it was a possibility going in. Really we talked about beating some of the teams we beat, but you really never know what’s going to happen on race day,” Grega said. “We were ready to go. We were all in.”
The Braves’ Will Caswell placed 14th (16:44.43) to earn all-state honors and Austin Poisson (16th, 16:46.47) and Justin Knipper (17th, 16:49.70) finished just short of making all-state in pacing the squad.
“It was really important to have all those guys up front for you. They were all in. They were mentally prepared for it. They were ready to make it race of they year and they did,” Grega said. “Every single one of those guys ran their personal best.
“We actually lost five of our top eight guys to graduation last year, so this was our rebuilding year,” Grega added. “Honestly, we had some kids who were on JV last year who really stepped up. Our seniors – Will Caswell and Austin Poisson – have been role models and leaders all year and stepped up and made sure everyone else did.”
St. James’ Billy Krier, meanwhile, had another solid showing in his final cross country state championships appearance. The Sharks’ senior took fifth place (15:54.34) with a time that was faster than when he placed third last year.
“As far as the results go, this year the AAA was a lot more competitive,” St. James coach Brian Conary said. “Last year he got third place with a slower time. He ran 16:30 last year. … Being 36 seconds faster on that course is really a accomplishment.”
The time would have been good enough for sixth in Class AAAA, state champ in AA or runner-up in A.
“The goal was to run sub-16 and 15:54 was a solid time. The goal was more focused on getting his [personal record] down, not necessarily the placing,” Conary said. “The placing is a lot harder to control. In a different year that time could have won him a state title; this year he got fifth place.”
The Waccamaw boys missed a runner-up finish by a mere point in AA.
Paced by all-state runners Robert Jones (third, 16:37.87) and Jaz Greene (seventh, 16:59.70), the Warriors (93 points) took third behind Pendleton (76) and Academic Magnet (92).
“Our goal going into the season was a top-three finish just based on who was returning from our team and from other teams,” Warriors boys coach Robert Delbagno said. “I wouldn’t call [Saturday’s finish] a surprise; the goal is to be No. 1. But everyone is happy to be where we are in the rankings overall. We missed No. 2 to a good Academic Magnet team by one point. The boys ran the best they could today.”
Last year, Greene paced the Warriors with a fifth-place finish while Jones took 10th. This season, Jones has emerged as Waccamaw’s No. 1.
Regardless of who leads the team, the Warriors have a pair of studs at the front of the pack.
“Within the last few weeks and in the month, Robert’s kind of taken our No. 1 spot. It’s no real surprise [to me], but it is to a lot of other teams; they’re used to seeing Jaz up front,” Delbagno said. “We’re very blessed to have such a talented one-two punch.”
Both are juniors and are expected back next season, along with most of the Warriors’ other key contributors.
“Our top 10 guys on our team are coming back next year,” Delbagno said. “Out of the top five teams [at state], none of them can say that.”
Green Sea Floyds (sixth) and Carvers Bay (10th) each posted top-10 team finishes in the Class A girls race.
The Green Sea Floyds boys took ninth.