Path to the Podium: Providence Christian Boys Win 2A Title

Path to the Podium-Providence Boys

By Andy Christie

What exactly did it take for a team to arrive at the moment where they are standing on the podium, clutching their prized trophy? In this article, Providence Christian Coach Steven Spevacek details the journey the Providence boys took on their way to their State Championship. (*FYI: Coach Spevacek ran for Parkview and was coached by former Parkview and current Lambert coach James Tigue).

XC 2022

Any seniors that set a good example or laid the foundation?
Our team was very green. Numbers were small and we did not have much experience. The team had not qualified for state in 5 years - so there was no structure, example, or model for success. Prior to XC 2022, my very first season of coaching was Track 2022. That season, Jon Burton was the first athlete that jumped on board with what I presented. When he quickly found improvement and success, that built trust. I relied heavily on him in our next two XC seasons - to prove that if you run the mileage and put in the consistent hard work, results will come. As a new coach, trying to rebuild a sunken program, I needed that validation so that other athletes would also jump on board. Jon just finished 7th in AA State and made the Gwinnett All-County Team.

Any good or bad results that motivated the team?
Honestly, I don't think we had any "bad" results. We were in that fun, early stage of running where everyone is just dropping significant time almost every single race. We saw steady improvement all year. We finished Region Runner-up to eventual State Champion Athens Academy. At state, with half of our team sick as dogs with the flu, we managed 6th place. The stage was set. The team believed they were capable of winning in 2023.

Winter 2022

Anyone that stepped up their training with XC already in mind?
Actually, not really. Some of our team played other sports through winter and spring - basketball and soccer. Despite some fall success, we still did not have a strong culture set where everyone was going to put in the miles over winter. I know Jon Burton ran over winter - but our team's mileage was honestly very low until track picked up in January.

Any setbacks/challenges that had to be overcome?
Our 4th runner at State, Aaron Barnebas, had a significant ankle injury in basketball. He opted not to have surgery, but he missed the entirety of his spring soccer season.

Track 2023

Did anyone have a breakout season, or were there new additions that changed the outlook of XC?
Nothing outstanding happened in track. It was all steady progress. The focus was to keep improving and develop championship habits - whether they realized it or not. I tried to focus on small gains and small victories - setting a school record in the 4x800, kids climbing higher on our school's All-Time List, etc. 
(On second thought, Jason Chapman did torch the middle school track scene).

Any setbacks/challenges that had to be overcome?
As I said earlier, we have a couple top runners that play soccer instead of track. We also happen to be in the deepest and toughest region for distance in AA. We had guys that would have scored at the state meet, but couldn't get out of the region (same story from when I ran). We were flying under the radar, but I knew when we brought all the guys together in August, we would have something special brewing. 

Summer 2023

Any new additions that changed the outlook for XC?
Rising freshman Jason Chapman (8th place in AA State) was finally eligible to run varsity. Junior Aaron Barnebas was also eligible to run varsity after sitting out a year due to transfer rules. It was tough in 2022, knowing those two guys would have been top 5 runners on our Varsity, but instead were forced to run middle school and JV races. Again, we were flying under the radar in 2022. 

What were the early goals for the season?
We wanted to win both Region and State Titles. 
Personally, I was wishful for a top 5 finish at the Gwinnett County Championships (Didn't happen).

How did summer training go for the team?
Much better than the year before. 
We kept a shared google doc that kids could update their mileage every couple weeks. Maybe half the kids used it. But it was progress!

Any setbacks/challenges that had to be overcome? 
I was out of town essentially all summer. We had maybe a couple of practices. Being at a private school, the kids do not all live down the street from one another - and many don't drive yet. It is a challenge for them to get together and run in the summer. 

Season 2023

Did anyone have a breakout season that changed the outlook for the team?
Almost all of the kids saw big improvements. However, I would not call any of them breakouts. I have a keen eye for their ability and potential - they ran what they were capable of. When I handed out goal sheets on the first day of practice, their goal times were so modest. I knew they would blow those times away. It's fun to watch the kids surpass their preconceived limitations.

How did early results compare to the team goals?
Coach Scott Williams and I deliberately created a schedule that started with low key meets and hard courses. Our times looked slow for a while (even County was a wet, slower morning). The kids even began to question what was going on. I had to tell them to trust the plan. It's fun to rip a PR on a fast course late in the year once you're fit... but when you have championship aspirations, and are looking for peak performance at State, you need to be battle tested and ready to roll on the hills at Carrollton. There may have been a few doubts early on, but we remained focused on our ultimate goal. 

Did the team revise any goals?
No. See below.

Any setbacks/challenges that had to be overcome?
Yes, the biggest challenge we faced was when senior DJ Iverson broke his foot in the very first mile of the very first race of the season. He actually finished the race. He was easily going to be a top 4 scorer for our team. Instead, he's had two surgeries and is still in a boot. That was hard. He has been such a trooper through it all and my heart goes out to him. In small divisions such as AA, nobody really has any margin for error. DJ's injury was huge and we had to look elsewhere for guys to step up. Winning is never easy, in anything! I was frustrated initially. But injuries are a part of sports, and you have to look elsewhere to find a way. Our guys stepped up to the challenge. I am very proud of their determination. 

In hindsight, what are the key moments of the season that led to the State result?
The initial acknowledgement that DJ broke his foot and would need surgery, an early season victory on a tough course at Tallulah Falls, setting big PR's at the new Jefferson course on a perfect Friday in October... but most importantly, losing to rival Athens Academy in the two weeks prior to State. They beat us by 6 points at Coach Wood and 2 points at Region. That is a great team with great coaches over there in Athens. But I knew falling a little short to the defending champions would help bring our team closer, with enhanced focus, and greater motivation. The state meet itself was so exciting and both schools gave their best shot. The race came down to the last mile and we were able to squeeze out enough points to secure our school's first cross country state championship!