Path to the Podium: North Atlanta Girls Cross Country

North Atlanta girls on top of the podium in class 6A. Photo by Matthew Farrell

Path to the Podium: North Atlanta 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 Matthew Farrell of North Atlanta, to talk about his girl's Class AAAAAA State Championship.  

Winter 2020:

This was when I came to North Atlanta. When I got there it was clear that we had a group of kids with potential and lots of it. As a young coach it was tough to gain the initial trust of the team, and as we began to train, we definitely had our ups and downs. For the first time in a long time this program looked to settle into a true training plan and culture, and that was an adjustment, for everyone. The schools I came from up north had a long history of success and a very strong foundation, so having to adjust to a newer team was tough, but the kids made it easier. They eventually bought into our plan, and trusted me, their young coach. Through the winter they worked hard with their goals set for the spring. 

Track 2021:

There isn't enough time in the world to talk about how much this season meant to me. 

We had a very young group on the girls side. But they didn't let that stop them. Catherine Townsend was a talented freshman that the other girls looked to chase. She bought into our program very quickly, and soon established herself as a top runner in the state. Along the way she also dropped me in multiple workouts and long runs haha. 

Catherine succeeded last track season because of her incredible resilience and willingness to do more, and also because of the culture the other girls were building behind her. Our more experienced girls like Anna Yoder, Sophie Haines, Maya Curnow, and Ella Kaufman not only showed the younger girls how work hard, but also how to run together and enjoy the time spent grinding mile after mile. This close group set school records and qualified for Sectionals in events from the 4x800 to the 3200. They finally gained the confidence knowing that THEY ARE GOOD RUNNERS. And this confidence was crucial in our success this fall.

Summer 2021 AND Fall 2021:

One of the biggest things that I wanted to stress this season was culture. Being a part of many great Cross Country teams, the idea of togetherness and overall enjoyment of the sport is the key to success and was the key to OUR success. Results, no matter how talented you are, cannot be achieved unless everyone is bought into the same goal, and has fun working towards those goals with their teammates. 

With the runners we had on the team this year, everyone could see that we could be very competitive and everyone can easily see that we had the potential to do something great. The athletes decided early that they wanted to take that potential and make it into something they would never forget. The girls early on decided to chase a state title.

On the girl's side, we had a handful of very talented runners. We had home school transfers, new freshmen, soccer players, and even a foreign exchange student that had never run before! With the help of our amazing group of returning athletes like Ella Kaufman and Sophie Haines and senior captains Anna Yoder and Mady Mertens, these fresh faces were integrated smoothly and quickly became a part of the ambitious goal we wanted to achieve. They handled the summer workload with confidence and grace, gaining the strength they needed from mileage increase, longest long runs ever, and speedier hill sprints. 

From top to bottom our girls wanted to be with each other every day working towards their shared goal of a State title. Quickly you could see the culture of togetherness forming. The girls were picking each other up, going to the deepest parts of the well together, cooling down with each other, and from top to bottom clearly becoming a close unit that no one wanted to face on race day.

After weeks of training, the results started to come in. Their bookend workouts were working, their post-run strides were paying off, and our girls were on their way with top finishes at several championship-level invites like Alexander ASICS and Coach Wood. Their confidence was growing, and their willingness to trust each other was FLOURISHING. 

At the end of the season, the State Meet was here. They were a little nervous at the new challenge, but never scared. They knew they had each other, and months of solid work in their legs. So even though this was a daunting experience for this young program, we had a plan, and they executed it more than perfectly. Our 3 fastest runners provided us the low sticks we needed, almost winning the race themselves! Our fierce freshman Olivia Massar took the world by storm picking up 25 extra points finishing 25th in the state after being ranked 51st. Our Swedish speedster Ebba Sjoberg consistently held onto her place and awarded herself her best race in her first year running. Our senior captain Mady Mertens and cool calm and collected 7th runner Sarah Anne Hamilton rolled together and displaced just enough points to help us win. 

Everything that happened was amazing, but one of the best parts of the entire day was the amount of support that these ladies had. From our state alternates and key training partners Anna Yoder and Emery Hailey to other teammates who weren't racing coming to support, to alumni and parents frantically cheering during each mile... it was incredible that this entire culture was able to celebrate as a top to bottom team.

Our girls are ambitious, strong-spirited, and admirably tenacious. They revealed that a talented group of individuals can collectively mesh together creating an unforgettable team. They put in the miles, they challenged each other, and from top to bottom they chased a dream that became a reality. And this championship reality will continue to fuel their burning desire to get better and live on as a magical memory forever. 

The 6A girls race won by North Atlanta