Path to the Podium: Chattahoochee Boys Win 5A State Title

Path to the Podium-Chattahoochee Boys

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, Chattahoochee Coach Mike Morris details the journey his boys took on their way to their State Championship in Class AAAAA.

XC 2022

Any seniors that set a good example or laid the foundation?
Diego Santiago, a senior on the 2022 team, definitely elevated our program during his 4 years. He paid attention to every detail and shared that with his teammates. He showed our team what working towards winning looked like. He was a true teammate who genuinely cared for his teammates. Diego is now running for the University of Georgia. 

Any good or bad results that motivated the team? 
Diego winning the individual title and our team getting 3rd was huge motivation for the returning runners.

Winter 2022

Anyone that stepped up their training with XC already in mind?
We definitely focus on track during the winter but as a coach I always have an eye on the whole training cycle. All of the key contributors worked hard during the winter to get ready for Track.

Any setbacks/challenges that had to be overcome?
We had no real setbacks during winter as we approached Track.

Track 2023

Did anyone have a breakout season, or were there new additions that changed the outlook of XC?
We had our strongest distance group at Chattahoochee in school history. Our focus was going 1,2 at State in the 1600 and 3200 and winning the 4 x 800. We also thought we could podium with just the distance runners which we did as we claimed 4th place.
Chris Connolly really stepped up as he showed his versatility setting PR's in the 400,800,1600 and 3200.
Chasing the 4 x 800 we really developed speed on our distance team. Diego and Chris,  Luke Shorrock, Alex Johnson, Elliott Howe, Josh Coleman and Jeremiah McGaw were all part of the 4 x 800 as members and alternates and all stayed ready.

Any setbacks/challenges that had to be overcome?
We were very fortunate to not really have any major setbacks. I take pride in that our injuries are relatively low. We use high intensity but age-appropriate mileage.

Summer 2023

Any new additions that changed the outlook for XC?
We had a couple of incoming freshmen that showed promise during the summer, Sam Rehberg and Logan Stokes. We have to teach them the expectations of being a member of Chattahoochee XC. It is a lot different than middle school. They did a great job during the summer.

What were the early goals for the season?
We race tough courses early on purpose to toughen our kids up and teach them cross country is about racing, not just times.

How did summer training go for the team?
Summer training went great. Chris Connolly really took over as our team leader and led by example for the boys. Kids are all over the place during the summer but when they are in town they come to practice and the ones that want to be good do their workouts wherever they are and it shows. My leaders do a great job of mentoring not just the boys, but the girls also, especially during the summer.

Any setbacks/challenges that had to be overcome?
The biggest challenge during the summer is the extreme heat and staying hydrated and strong.

Season 2023

Did anyone have a breakout season that changed the outlook for the team?
We had a move in from Chile, Antonio Correa who fit in nicely with the team. He also trains for triathlons. 
Jeremiah McGaw was a key part of our team all season and then stepped up at the State meet dropping his 2022 state time of 18.01 to a 16.23 and a 5th place overall finish. 
Elliott Howe was just a great team player. He came back from a stress fracture in his femur as a sophomore to be our number 3 runner at State.
Sam Rehberg really stepped up as our number 5 runner late in the season and helped seal the deal for us at State.
This was truly a team effort as all the varsity boys pushed each other every day in practice.

How did early results compare to the team goals?
The early meets for us were all about keeping our runners close to each other, not just chasing times. We use 2 concepts: keep your teammates in sight, and person in front of the person. That means that the person directly in front of you is a target, but the next person is who you should have your eyes on. That helps prevent gaps from developing and it makes the races go by faster.

Did the team revise any goals?
No. We never veered from our goal of bringing Chattahoochee its first ever Team State championship. That is a true testament to the boys on this team. They never let off the gas. They came to practice every day ready to work. They did not need any motivation because they were disciplined and did the work that was put in front of them and trusted what we were doing.

Any setbacks/challenges that had to be overcome?
We had a couple of minor injuries but doesn't every team? I am not going to complain here about that.

In hindsight, what are the key moments of the season that led to the State result? 
We live by a philosophy we call 22 Hours. That means we make sure that the time between practice ending and the start of the next practice (which is 22 hours later) we make sure we are at our best and ready to go. This means learning time management. You have to make sure you get enough sleep, hydrate and refuel, keep up with your studies and manage your personal life details.
There were no real "a ha!" moments, just consistent hard work and a desire to be great every day from a group of young men that would not be denied this year. I truly sit in awe of this group and am honored to have been their coach. They inspire me to be a better coach and a better person.
I want to thank all the people who have supported me along the way. Our Principal Dr Todd and AD Chris Short have been strong supporters of cross country. My co coach Tim Reeder is the most underrated coach in the state and was huge in our success. Also my wife Natalie who supports my coaching unconditionally and knows more about xc than some coaches. Thanks everybody.