Path To The Podium: Marist Girls Take 6A State Title

Interview with 6A girls team Champion Marist

Path to the Podium: Marist Girls

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 Matt McMurray what it took for the Marist girls to win the Class 6A State Championship

XC 2021

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

The girls' class of 2022 was a phenomenal group. Johna Grisik and Nicole Pizzo were a dynamic senior pairing on race day, and - along with Kate Huffstetler, Paige Lange, and Maya Arena - embodied Marist cross country's core values. They helped uphold the tradition of prioritizing the relationships we build along the way, and they helped shape our current upperclassmen leaders. 

any results that gave motivation (good or bad)

The 2021 state meet was special. The girls scored 17 points in GHSA 4A, claiming 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 7th individually. Knowing it was our final season in 4A, we wanted to finish strong, and the girls stepped away victorious after a season of trials and challenges.  

Winter 2021

Anyone that stepped up their training with XC already in mind

Juniors Aggie Law and Nicole Barrios made instrumental growth following the 2021 fall season. Both girls recognized we would have openings within the top-7 and state team following a large graduating class, and both girls committed to improving over 1600m and 3200m during the spring to put themselves in position for a big summer. 

Mindset of the non-seniors 

With the 2021-2022 track season being our final competitive season in GHSA 4A, the mindset was largely focused on progressing throughout the spring, qualifying intelligently out of region and sectionals, and performing well in Albany. Our girls who comprise the distance squad understood we had vaulters, jumpers, throwers, hurdlers, and relays that would contribute points at state, and if everyone was willing to compete at the distances best for the team's success, they could score enough points to secure the team win.

Track 2022

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

Current sophomore Maeve Waddell had a great freshman spring. She had run 19:46 at Coach Wood as a freshman, and she ran to 5th place in the 3200m at state in a time of 11:32. Stella Chambless, then a sophomore and new to track and field, also made significant growth, running 5:21 and 2:26 - speed which translated into a drop from 20:01 to 19:36 and an 11th place finish at the GHSA 6A state meet. Aggie Law and Nicole Barrios, both current juniors, also made significant improvements, both running in the low 5:30s and 2:30s over 1600m and 800m. 

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

Ruby Little and Kate Selover, both continued to perform well, especially at the 4A track state championship where they scored a combined 27 points. 

Any setbacks/challenges that had to be overcome?

Johna Grisik and Nicole Pizzo, now running at Vanderbilt and Clemson, respectively, were both scoring members of our cross country top-7, and after scoring nearly 40 points between them at track state, we knew they would be hard to replace. 

While not on the track team, current senior Emily Delmonte, tore her ACL representing Marist on the soccer pitch. As a returning senior with a 19:23 personal best at Coach Wood, we knew Emily would have to miss a substantial amount of time as she returned to running. 

Summer 2022

Any new additions that changed the outlook for XC

Aggie Law, Nicole Barrios, Maeve Donahue, and Cosie Lane all came into team camp in great shape. Cosie had an unfortunate bout with stress reactions this season and never got to put her hard work on display, but those four gave us confidence early we'd have 2-4 girls knocking on the 20-minute barrier by October. 

Early goals for the season

The girls had a few goals this season, but number one on the list was to have fun. Enjoying each other's company, learning about one another, and valuing the time they have together was the chief priority for our girls this season. 

With the switch to 6A this spring, the second goal was to win state, prioritizing Wingfoot and Great American along the way. 

How the team handled summer training

Our girls did a great job this summer. Many of the girls regularly got together to run at Marist or the River, and those who traveled or had non-running camps balanced their training and summer break well. Eight of our top-10 girls logged between 300-450 miles over 11 weeks, so we were prepared for early-August conditioning. 

Any setbacks/challenges that had to be overcome?

Ruby Little, Kate Selover, Maeve Waddell, and Stella Chambless all returned from last year's state team and were healthy at the onset of the season, but knowing who would step up to be 5-7 was uncertain. 

Season 2022

Anyone that had a breakout season that changed the outlook

Aggie Law and Nicole Barrios both ran huge personal bests of 20:17 and 20:21 this fall and battled at the 5-6 spot all season. Their growth gave us confidence in our team's depth. Maeve Donahue also ran 20:47 this year, a 40 second improvement from her freshman season. 

Maeve Waddell made a big jump this fall as well, developing into Kate Selover's workout and race partner all season. She ran 18:48 at Coach Wood, a 58 second improvement from freshman year, and four additional sub-19:25 performances. 

How early results compared to any goals

Starr's Mill was an eye opener. While we were just starting our season, several other teams were already battle tested and gave us an early wake up call. 

We took that motivation and ran hard at Warpath, establishing a positive tone that would carry throughout the rest of the fall. 

Any revisions of goals?

Initially, we had set sights on trying to win at Wingfoot, and seeing how strong Auburn (AL) and Brentwood (TN) had been, we knew winning would be really tough. The girls didn't necessarily revise their goal, but the objective shifted to finishing as strong as we could and seeing how close we were to those regionally-competitive programs. We knew Harrison wasn't at full strength that day, so finishing third overall as the top Georgia school was a positive takeaway. 

Any setbacks/challenges that had to be overcome? 

Mid-October presented its challenges. This year, Marist had fall testing and fall break the week of Coach Wood, which was immediately followed by our homecoming game and dance, our Region Championship, and Halloween events. I think every team likely experienced this wave of sickness, but several of our top-7 runners had either a fever, the flu, or strep in the days and weeks leading up to state. We were not at full strength at Region, and a few girls did not run in our state team 1600m time trial. 

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

Ruby's 17:39 at Warpath, Wingfoot victory, and Region title affirmed she would contend for the individual win at state in a deep 6A field. 

Kate's performance at Jesse Owens was pivotal, as she notched her first sub-19 in Oakville. She carried that momentum into an 18:54 at Coach Wood, and her 4th place 18:56 at Allatoona Creek Park in a tough Region 4-6A gave her the confidence she needed to claim a 6th place individual finish at State. 

Maeve Waddell's 18:48 at Coach Wood gave her confidence she belonged in the primary chase group at State, and Stella Chambless and Aggie Law both bounced back in incredible fashion from illness to have invaluable days in Carrollton when we needed them most. Emily Delmonte made her return 6 months post-ACL repair to run 20:50 at Jesse Owens, reinforcing our depth and inspiring the girls after a hard-fought return.