There were some really competitive high school boys cross country squads south of the border in 2020. Many also performed very well on the 'hills of Carrollton' which has not been the case in past history for the lowlanders. None more so than South Effingham. After a 10th place finish in Class 5A at the 2019 state meet, the Mustangs did the unthinkable, moving up in class to 6A and becoming a mainstay in the weekly team rankings during the regular season. In the post-season placed a close second at the region 2-AAAAAAA, meet and followed that achievement by their gutty run in the hottest race of the day Friday finishing second nine points behind champion Cambridge.
We had a brief Q&A session with 'South of the Border' high school boys 'Coach of the Year' Laura Soles a couple of days ago about her team's incredible season.
1- What were your expectations for your squads this season back in early August?
State Champions, but they really did not believe they could place in the top 5 in 6A..We had to have a "change of mindset".
2- How did COVID-19 affect your season and tell us how you dealt with it as a program?
We followed the temp checks, forms, and told everyone if they did not feel 100% STAY HOME! They had to wear a mask in the building, or they would not be able to compete.
The day before Region the top 4 out of seven girls were quarantined for 2 weeks. This meant they could not run at Region or State. very disappointing for the team, but that allowed 1st-year girls to compete and experience State.
3- Did you have any runners that made an impact for your team that exceeded your expectations?
The Teams grew as a whole and we had several running for their own benefit. The team was not important at first. I personally believe most came to summer practice because they were tired of being at home (socially). The boys did their jobs and made each one accountable for showing up on Saturdays and making practice times on speed days. The girl's Team mentored and supported each other each day. The individual selfishness turned into selflessness. I am very proud
4- Other than your top runner/runners, did you have a runner that was a key leader at practices and races that contributed to your squad's success?
Individuals came together to make a whole 'team'. Tyler Phillips could be a great leader, but he is a freshman. Jacob Mitchell is quiet, but his actions and running times are so consistent. Cailan Howard really worked the program and had his best race at State. The girl's team was matched up with the 2-3 year girls to 1st-year girls, and they worked together and pushed each other to do their best
5- Tell us about your squad's day at Carrollton state, the race, and their/your reaction at their place of finish/how close they were to doing even better?
I have been to Carrollton several times. The starting of the race was way too long because of COVID-19 restrictions. I had 3 boys crying because of the stress. They were so emotional. During the race, my top three were running - hitting their splits every mile. I was very excited they were so strong going up and down the hills. When I saw Tyler place 4th and Cailan running upon him in 5th place, I had to find his dad and he was excited! When I was told we placed second I fell to my knees. It was a big surprise and all the hard work had paid off.
6- What do you foresee is possible in the 2021 XC season for the South Effingham program? Are there any middle schoolers that could have an impact?
I will have the same Team 2021 (God willing). Jacob Mitchell is graduating, so I need these guys to step up. Hopefully, this virus will be under control by then and all my Girls will also bring it in 2021. I have several seniors next year and hopefully, they will bloom. I am trying to start a Running Club at the Middle School, so the program can develop before students get to 9th grade.