Path to the Podium: 2021 Sequoyah Boys Cross Country

Sequoyah Boys on the podium. Photo by Peter Vajda

Path to the Podium: Sequoyah Boys, by Andy Christie

Looking at State Results is interesting enough, for us fans of high school cross country. However, finding out what it took for teams to reach that point makes those places and point totals that much more fascinating.

Making the podium (top 4) as a team and earning a State trophy is the goal for many teams when they start preparing for XC after Track ends.  Whether it is the thrill of a program making it for the first time, the pride of keeping a tradition alive, or the exhilaration of a return to the top after an absence, climbing the stairs to the podium is the dream of harriers hoping to end their season on a high note. 

We've asked coaches to reflect on what it took to get their team to the podium at the 2021 Georgia State Cross Country Meet. Next up is Coach Corinne Ingram of Sequoyah High School, to talk about her boys 4th place finish in the Class 6A State Meet. 

XC 2020

any seniors that set a good example or laid the foundation? 

In 2020 our top 7 was composed of juniors and sophomores, so they were a young team which made it exciting because no matter what happened in the 2020 Season we were going to get a 2nd chance in 2021.

any results that gave motivation (good or bad)?

2020 was a weird year because our summer training was different due to COVID limitations, so we were not really sure what the season was going to look like. The fact that we were able to have an almost normal racing season was a big motivator because we knew all 7 of our top boys would return in 2021, so whatever results we had we could fine tune them and come back in 2021 to do it all over again.

When the first race of the season was canceled and then the 2nd, we began to scramble finding meets to race while keeping our training going and team healthy. Josh Helms breaking into the 16s and Aiden Ingram and Jake Labasi breaking into the 17s was a big motivator because they started seeing podium finishes and team finishes that their teammates in 2018 were doing to make it State, so they started getting pumped that they had the potential to make it in 2020.The Varsity Boys Team went into Region Championships as a wild card, with potential of maybe finishing 4th or 5th, but break-out races for Nathan Valles (17:29) and Brock Freeman with (17:50) led the team to a 3rd place finish!

We were going into State knowing we could be a top 10 team. A couple days before the race, we lost our #1 Josh Helms for the race (due to a family loss), so we had to make adjustments. This got in their heads a little bit. Race conditions were warm and on that hilly course, Carrollton got the best of some that day. We finished 13th which was better then 2018, but not how we knew we could finish. This motivated them going into the 2021 season, because all 7 were returning the next year. 

Winter 2020

Anyone that stepped up their training with XC already in mind?

I would not say stepped up the training but they just went into track season with XC in mind knowing that it all helps to have great seasons. Josh, Aiden, Jake, Clay all ran track so this is when they started training knowing that it will not only lay the foundation for Track but lead into XC.

mindset of the non-seniors?

Josh Helms (junior), Aiden Ingram (junior), Jake Labasi (sophomore) and Clay Tucker (sophomore) were ready for a strong track season coming off of XC and wanting to hit some low times.

Track 2021

I was not really involved in Track 2021, so what I witnessed was....

anyone that had a breakout season, or new additions, that changed the outlook of XC?

Clay Tucker (sophomore) after running for the first time in the Fall for XC, really found a love for distance and had a strong season in track focusing on the 2 mile. While his times did not produce podium finishes, we saw a racer coming out of his shell and were getting excited for what that was going to mean for the 2021 XC season.

anyone that was already expected to contribute, but still had a good season?

Josh Helms had a great season and focused on the 3200. He finished 2nd or 3rd in most meets. For Region he focused on the 3200 and 4x800. His 9:52 was just not enough to make it to sectionals missing it by 1 spot finishing 5th at Region, which he used to light a fire under him for the coming XC season. Aiden Ingram and Jake Labasi also had a good season staying consistent and knocking down their times to get some PRs

Summer 2021

For Summer training, we were able to get back to normal and we had great turnouts for workouts and everyone was absorbing some foundational skills that would lead to a strong Fall season. Returning all of our Top 7 from 2020 and watching them during summer running, seeing how strong they were already, we knew they could make some waves this season. Seniors Josh Helms and Aiden Ingram ran 400-500 miles over the summer, setting some foundational miles for a strong season.

early goals for the season?

Really our only goal was going back to State and finishing in the Top 10.We knew to do that we were going to need to strengthen our Top 5 and get them to buy in to packing together better and working together as a team. We knew we had to do a lot of hill training to stay strong and ready to battle at Carrollton

Season 2021

anyone that had a breakout season that changed the outlook?

At the end of the 2020 season, Clay Tucker was consistently making PRs each race and knocking down his times. He continued during track season, so coming into the Fall we knew to expect that he would contribute, but I don't think any of us expected him to go from being our #6 runner to #2 early in the season. When he finished in 4th at Mary Persons Invitational and 8th at Berry Clara Bowl with a 17:19, we knew we had a racer who was going to do big things for us this year. Aiden Ingram started the season as a #4 runner running high 18s. Was out for COVID and this put him a little behind. Thankfully he had the foundation from summer, because when he was back to 100% he broke into the 16s with a 16:57 at Warpath and from there just continued to push and keep up with the front of the pack, closing the gap between him and Josh giving us more low points to score better at County, Region, and State. Nathan Valles and Jake Labasi also broke into the high 16s, closing the gap and we really saw this at Region.

how early results compared to any goals?

Winning the Mary Persons Invitational in August while missing one of our top 7 runners due to COVID gave them the confidence to know they had great potential for an amazing season working together as a team. They went on to Berry Clara Bowl and took home 3rd place only losing to 7A schools which gave them another boost! Each race after that we placed in the top for 6A schools and this is when the boys knew if we work together and stay healthy and strong through the whole season we will be going out on top! The Top 7 boys learned to work together as a team throughout the season and through practices and races they pushed each other to get better each time.

any revisions of goals?

With early results being strong, we moved the finish line and we knew we were a top 2 team at Region and a top 10 team for State.

any setbacks/challenges that had to be overcome?

Covid struck the team this season (got lucky in 2020), we lost 2 of our top 7 boys early in the season. Luckily it was early enough in the season that they had time to rebuild and breakout at the right time. We also dealt with some injuries that plagued us in October and we were not sure we would be able to pull out the results we wanted. Brock Freeman dealt with stress reactions in October, Nathan Valles with IT band issues right before Region, Jake Labasi suffered a calf strain at County in October. All key runners in the success of meeting the goals we wanted for the team. It was very nerve racking.

in hindsight, key moments of the season that led to the State result?

The 2021 season was a culmination of 3-4 years of training and learning. Josh, Aiden, Jake and Brock have been racing together for 6 years and they appreciate what Nathan, Jack and Clay bring to the team so they became friends and that made a difference.

Josh Helms being the leader he was and consistently on the podium in the Top 10, pushing the boys behind him to close the gap also led to success this season

The confidence that they could be a Top team gave them the drive to push hard at practice and let it play out in the race.

These boys put in the mileage and training over the summer to build a foundation, they learned to race smart and work as a team in practice and in races.

This could be really be seen at the end of the season at County, Region and State. At Region specifically, Josh and Aiden were pushing together for the first 2 miles and Clay Tucker, Nathan Valles and Jake Labasi all ran in pack for the whole race finishing our 5 in the Top 12 with a :50 second time differential. This led them to win Region 7 6A. At that race we knew we had a shot at Podium at State.

Going into the morning of State, we had some setbacks that we were not really sure how they were going to shake out (missing shoes, not an awesome night sleep, injuries). We probably could have finished with a few more points if we were 100% that day

However, because of their training, they stood strong and key players stepped up to hold tight to positions and that led to the 4th place finish. One of the Key Moments at State was Nathan Valles IT band bothering him and he started to fall off from his pace and Brock Freeman (#6 runner), stepped up and worked with Jake Labasi (#3/4) through the whole race and Brock finished 4th with a 17:50 PR on the course (2:16 faster than his 2020 State time) and Jake 5th keeping us 4 points ahead of Creekview.

Our 4th Place is the highest finish Sequoyah has ever had at XC State (we think?)

The 6A boys state race.