Path to the Podium: 2021 Central High Girls Cross Country

Central celebrating 3rd place in 4A. Photo by Stephanie Bowen.

Path to the Podium: Central Girls, 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 Jonathan Horsley of Central High School, to talk about his girls 3rd place finish in the Class AAAA State Meet. 

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

Anna Ayers, Payton Bryan, and Grace Bolden are my three seniors and have all been a huge part of the program through the rebuilding phase. When I first took over the program we barely had enough girls to fill out a full seven. All three of these girls have been on the team the last three years working hard and encouraging underclassmen coming in. 

Track 2021

Karley Bowen, Lucy Barker, and Anna Ayers all had phenomenal winter and spring track sessions. Lucy Barker ended her season with a top ten finish at state and worked hard all winter. We had a brutal sectional, but Lucy was still able to qualify for state in the two mile. The other team members followed her example and improved dramatically. Karley Bowen ended XC of 2020 with a pr in the 24s or 25s, but by the end of track was running a mid six mile. I thought this improvement was outstanding. Anna was able to get her mile below six by the end of the season and ran some 800 legs in the high 2:30s which helped the 4 x 800 team get top eight in the state. 

Summer/XC 2021

We picked up some really talented freshmen girls. Hannah Hembree and Jessica Miller ran varsity for us most of the season to complement our strong sophomore class. We had the strongest summer training session of my time at Central. Great attendance and a lot of miles were logged. Our biggest challenges this season were injuries. We lost our number one from last year and Gracie Warren had stepped up dramatically to be our three, only for us to lose her midseason to injury. I was really proud of how the remaining team members Anna Ayers, Lorelei Daugherty, Bella Abernathy, Jessica Miller, Karley Bowen, and Hannah Hembree stepped in to fill that gap. We were missing two of our top three runners, but everyone else improved so much we still had a great State showing. I think that 5 of my seven runners dropped a minute from last year to this year at the state course. The best part is we are only graduating one of our top seven and hope to have our other two back next fall. 

The 4A Girls Race