Path To The Podium: Starrs Mill Boys Take Runner Up In 4A

Watch the Starr's Mill boys take runner up in the 4A race

Path to the Podium: Starr's Mill Boys

By Andy Christie

Everyone sees the smiling faces when a team is up on the podium at State, but not everyone sees what it took to get there. In this article, we find out from Coaches Don Livingston and Kelly Rock what it took for the Starr's Mill boys to finish in 2nd place in Class 4A.

XC 2021

Laying the foundation?....  


I think that our 2021 4th place finish combined with changing classifications from 5A to 4A definitely provided some additional motivation this season. We also had a strong group of senior boys this 2022 season that exuded energy, passion, and leadership to lead the team. These boys served as captains for the team in addition to being leaders on the course. (Ethan Aguilera, Grant Dougher, Nat Miller, Denver Oates 


I would say the foundation was planted by the 2014 team.  After 3 years of training and believing they could be better, that group of juniors and seniors finished 3rd and made the podium for the first time in school history (SMHS opened in 1997).  That was back when 5A and 6A were one classification.

"We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us;" and they broke through "barriers" that existed.  So, there is line of SMHS seniors over the last 10 years who demonstrated to the underclassmen through consistent training and racing that you can be better than we thought we could

Guys like Garrett Jones, Tyler Rock, Colton Olvey, Kolby Smith, Seth Miller, Jospeh Muzzillo, Nick Nyman, Harrison Fultz, Ty Duben, Reed Livingston, Josh Warren, James Adam, Ryan Phillips and more.   So, these teams set the culture and changed the culture over the last 10 years.

These runners come back and visit with the team throughout the track and XC seasons and over the summer. 

Any results that gave motivation (good or bad) - 


Back in 2014, we were just happy to make the podium, but then we were 2nd for a couple of years and thought we had a shot to win. The culture change from being happy to make the podium to expecting to make the podium.

After we won it in 2018, we appreciated all the hard work required.  The culture change from expecting to make the podium to competing for the championship. The past 2 years we were in with Decatur, St. Pius X and Blessed Trinity and finished 4th behind them.  Those are quality teams, and something needed to change if we want to compete for a championship again. 

So, we changed our expectations to work to be in the top 10-15 teams all classifications and just be a better Starr's Mill team than the year before. We can't control what classification we get put into and who is in there with us.

Net coming into 2022, the goal was to be a better team and each runner needed to be better

Winter 2021

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


Our top freshman last year from XC, Bankson Roach had an outstanding winter training, leading to a 10:02 3200 in track and 4:39 in the 1600m 

Mindset of the non-seniors 


Our junior class knew that a good offseason is important for track as well as XC country.  4 of them had outstanding off seasons:   Grant Dougher, Denver Oates, Nat Miller and Ethan Aguilera

Any setbacks/challenges that had to be overcome? 


One setback (and this goes for Track 2022 below as well) is that one of our top runners had to overcome some pretty challenging health issues (GI related). Not only was it physically limiting for him, but it was emotionally devastating as well knowing that he could not perform to the best of his ability. He was fortunate to be able to resolve those issues and was one of our top 5 runners at state this year.


a couple of guys had challenges that impacted their training for several weeks during the winter of 2021, Grant and Denver, but their positive attitudes and focus helped them through some tough weeks.


Track 2022

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


4 guys on this year's team ran really well..   3200 times:  10:01 Nat Miller,  10:02 Bankson Roach, 10:07 Grant Dough,  10:17 Denver Oates

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


our 800 specialist, Ethan Aguilera ran well in the 800 and 1600 and was committed to a strong summer of training.

Any setbacks/challenges that had to be overcome? 


see above

Summer 2022

Any new additions that changed the outlook for XC - 


Our freshman, Nate Pacetti, was a new additon this year that ended up being in our top 7 running at state. We didn't truly realize his complete potential until the season started. We certainly saw his talent this summer, but had no idea the amount that he would contribute to the team throughout the season. 

Early goals for the season:


I'm going to give you two: Our boys obviously wanted to win state, but knew Westminster was going to be a tough competitor, so the realistic goal they set was to finish 1st or 2nd. The second goal is a little more "touchy-feely". During one of our team bonding trips and during one of our captain's leadership trainings, the boys (and girls) wanted to establish a more unified team. Their goal was to make our team one XC team instead of being more segregated into a boys team and a girls team. This fracture happened because of necessity during the time of COVID and had not completely healed itself. Seeing the boys and girls make an intentional effort to cheer each other on this season during practices and meets has made such a positive impact on the performance (time and mentality) of the team. 


Diego Ramos, Junior during 2022 season, had a tremendous summer.  He made the top 7 guys as a freshman, but was #8 man in XC as a sophomore and his track season fell well below his expectations.   Over the summer, he showed his potential week after week.

Our freshman, Nate Pacetti, was a new addition, he learned how to train and to how to race, getting better every race.  As a 7th man, he will an even bigger impact next year.

The boys goal(s) were: (1) to win state and (2) feel like one team with the girls: after being separated for 2 years (due to COVID)

I worked to redirect the goal to train to put yourself in a position to compete for a state title because you never know if the other teams will get a move in or two or have an outstanding summer training.  Meaning, "control what you can control"

Summer training goals:  build an aerobic base and stay injury free. 

How the team handled summer training - 


Summer training is hard because of vacations, camps, etc. But, we averaged ~40 athletes out of 70 showing up each day Monday - Saturday from June 6 until the start of the season. 


Another great summer of training:  the top 8-10 boys hit their weekly mileage and quality  long runs, quality tempo and quality repeat mile workouts;  and they encourage the younger and up and coming runners.

We took another group to running camp this year at Atlanta Track Club's Wingfoot Camp in Huntsville AL and several team bonding activities through the summer

Any setbacks/challenges that had to be overcome? 


None really-  just trying to keep everyone healthy so they can train


Season 2022

Anyone that had a breakout season that changed the outlook - 

Rock: I mentioned one athlete above with health issues and our freshman surprise, Nate Pacetti. But, one other one that I will mention is Diego Ramos. He ended up being our #3 guy at state and didn't run at state last year. He was frustrated at times during Track 2022, but didn't let that deter him from his goals this season. 

Livingstone:Diego Ramos-  Kelly nailed it.  He made a huge difference 

How early results compared to any goals

Livingston:Our first 3 meets were Bob Blastow,  ATT Starr's Mill, and Carrollton State Preview and we got a chance to run against all of the top 10 teams in the state. We were 4th, 4th, and 7th and beat some good teams;  So we knew the team had done the necessary preparation over the summer.

Any revisions of goals? - 


We stayed consistent and true to our goals. I think that was a huge part of our success this season. 


We were consistent: stay on that modified goal,  Control what you can control,  just get better every week and put yourself in a position to compete for the title at State Meet.

Any setbacks/challenges that had to be overcome? - 

Rock: One of the biggest challenges we faced this season was managing our dual sport athletes. We have athletes that are involved in extremely competive club soccer and swim, so working with them (and their other coaches), adds another layer to our coaching table to keep the athletes healthy. 

Livingston:Challenge #1: Westminster came out with one of their best teams and we had to keep working if we wanted to have a shot to win our classification. Congrats to the Westminster boys for an outstanding season.Challenge #2:  Sickness:  The week before state we had our best workout on Saturday morning. I was feeling real good.  Then, for the next 7 days, we had 1 or more boys tell us they had the flu or flu like symptons:  so Thursday night before state we had had 7 of out of 12 boys out sick. a few came back and ran well. By the way that was true for the girls team as well (7 of 12 girls sick).We again focused on control what you can control and give your best. 

In hindsight, key moments of the season that led to the State result - 


Their commitment. Each of our top 12 had some sort of struggle leading up to state, but they stayed positive that they still had the ability to earn the state title. 


Commitment to being their best every week

Consistently running faster so that they could see proof along the way, for example, away meet in Alabama and then Coach Wood demonstrated to the boys that things were coming together.

A few outcomes for you:


YOY improvements in 5K XC times: Denver Oates   54 seconds to 16:10, Grant Dougher  54 seconds to 16:13, Nat Miller 55 seconds to 16:16, Diego Ramos     47 seconds to 16:23, Ethan Aguilera   15 seconds to 16:39, Bankson Roach  4 seconds to 16:43 - sick at state, Nate Pacetti  - new runner this year- sick at state, the other 5 guys in the top 12 -  57 seconds to 1min 38 sec YOY improvement This year's team was the fastest in school history at state with a 17.17 team average and a 23 second packOn the day of the state meet:  our 17.17 team average stacked up well versus all other classifications We were in the top 10 all classification ranking a few times throughout the season.