It's been fun over the years standing at finish lines across the state - marveling at the Nichole Feagans', Serena Tripodi's, Zack Truitts, and the 'Flyin Hawaiian' Joe Sapone's of the world.
True, the state cross country finals in Carrollton have been written about in large headlines throughout recent times. Remember the one where it depended on which shoe the chip was on? Or the occasional DQ because of forgotten earring or a uniform mishap? The feared yet revered title going down to the #6 runner?
Or those seconds - those painful yet adrenaline filled seconds - while aunts, uncles, grandparents, runners, and perhaps even farm animals wait until the race was Georgia Milesplit official. Refresh buttons have never, for the record, been pounded and re-pounded so hard, so quickly, so often.
And here's to that final refresh - you know the one - the one that broke your heart, or the one that had you racing one more time to get to the top of that elusive podium. The view from up there is good, no?
Still, perhaps there's an underrated, unsung group - in all due respect to the Mach Speed Musketeers mentioned above - that were more than crucial in making the championships happen. Yes, this reporter at DNN (Dunn Neugie Network) is talking about the team's #5-through-#7 runners, and some of his questions were these:
Does being #5 add a layer of tension in your stomachs? Increase the size of the lumps in your throats? Do you alter your race plans - particularly on a course as unforgiving as Carrollton? With this said, this reporter went to the phones, emails, and hallways and tracked down some of the 'last line of defense' - runners and coaches, past and present - and got their comments.
"There is nothing, I mean NOTHING, more frustrating than standing at the finish line waiting on your number five runner," a former coach said. "There's nothing you can do - you can't call time out; you can't re-strategize. All you can do is will him or her forward. I remember telling my #5 guy years ago that, the longer I had to wait for him, the madder I got.
Another coach put it this way: "The number five runner is so important that, when we hosted a big meet, we would often have an MVP trophy just for them."
One alum runner brought a good perspective, as she anchored teams that one year was picked to win state and did not; the next year weren't picked to win it but did. Surprisingly though, it wasn't the nerves that spurred her on despite being on the biggest stage.
"My thoughts were more that this was my senior year, my last shot. My job was to make sure we were all accountable; and I wanted to make my friends and teammates proud. In the end, I wanted to do well for my team, and I just wanted to leave a lasting impact. Besides, I always do a lot better when I'm not nervous; my biggest problem was it was cold that day."
A current runner sees it a bit different, as it IS the jitters that motivates him.
"I'm not going to lie, running in that position makes me a bit nervous. There's a lot to account for and I'm the one carrying the load at the bottom half of the lineup. Still, once I get my head wrapped around it and the race gets started, I know my boys have my back and I know I've got theirs. That's what makes it a team, and, at the end of the day, I've just got to do my part to shorten the gap."
In closing, November looms ahead, the finish line at the bottom of that sacred hill is drawing closer. There will be individual champions that will receive the shiniest of all medals, get interviewed live before a huge audience. All good I say.
Still, without that #5, no championship hopes are alive. So, here's to you all, you underrated heroes, the ones who rarely get microphones shoved in front of your faces after the refresh buttons have been pushed the final time.
And even though the finish line tape may be a tattered mess by the time your shoes trample across it, a heavenly trip to the top rung of the podium would have instead been hell without you.
Holder of lots of jobs
Author, coach, nice guy-
2019 GHSA Girls' XC State Champions
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