Interview with Boys 2A team Champions - Athens Academy
Path to the Podium: Athens Academy 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 Coach Geoff Walton what it took for the Athens Academy boys to win the Class 2A State Championship.
The 2021 team finished 4th in the State meet which was a great finish for them. The team had no seniors and a close knit group who decided they were going to do everything they could to reach for a State Championship. As coaches, we knew that this group of runners had the right balance of drive and confidence while also having a lighthearted and fun side needed for a long season. We were confident that they could be successful if everything played out right.
Pretty normal winter.
Jackson Scruggs had a strong track season and continued to gain in confidence from race to race. Robbie Dillon also had a breakout track season. His times kept getting faster and faster. Thomas Meyer ran track for the first time and you could see his footspeed and confidence continue to improve.
Every time we would check with the team over the summer, they would give positive feedback. We could tell they were training but were excited to hear that they were training as a group.......not individuals. We had a good group of senior leadership along with some solid Freshmen runners. What excited me most was that we had 54 boys and girls come out to run this year, including 13 seniors. For a school with 300 students, that is a huge team. For me, having a large team makes practices, and time outside of practices, so much more enjoyable. I think a large team takes some of the pressure off the top runners and helps them manage the ups and downs of the season.
We started the season with some good, solid performances. We ran the Stage Races at East Jackson and had a good day there. When the boys finished second behind Mill Creek, it validated our feelings that this had the potential to be a strong team. We continued with strong training and races for the next several meets, but didn't have a full squad due to travel, SAT, sickness, etc. It wasn't until the Clarke/Oconee Championship that we had our next "check-in" to measure where we were. In that race, we finished second to Oconee and had a very strong race. Jackson Scruggs, Will DeLoach and Robbie Dillon ran their consistently strong races but Walter Hequembourg and Thomas Meyer really stepped up and showed that they were not intimidated by the Championship atmosphere. This race was a bit mental hurdle and confidence booster for the team. This meet was the meet where we, as coaches, felt confident that this group could manage the stress of the State Meet.
The most stressful part of the weeks leading up to the State Meet were the things we couldn't control. We knew the boys were physically and mentally ready to compete but the Flu bug hit our campus in a big way. We had a couple runners miss school the week before region and we had one runner not able to compete at Region due to illness. It was tough on all of us just hoping that we would arrive at race day healthy enough to have a great day.
On that Saturday, we had a solid day. at the mile mark everyone was where they needed to be and, most importantly, looked comfortable. It was challenging as coaches because we were in a new classification and didn't know what teams to look out for or what jersey's to pick out. We just had to focus on our runners and making sure we ran our race. When the race finished, we had no idea whether we had won, but we knew we had run where we wanted to. We felt good about our race. My phone wasn't working because the cell coverage on State Meet day is horrible, but another coach came over to congratulate the boys when he saw the official results posted. It was fun watching their smiles and cheering once the pressure of achieving that goal of a State Championship was reached.