The 2013 season is proving to be more of the same, with the War Eagles the top-ranked team in AAAA in last week’s ga.milesplit.com poll.
Marist is the No. 1-ranked squad in ga.milesplit.com’s girls’ all-classification poll and is ranked fifth in the boys’ all-class rankings.
In other words, it’s business as usual for a Marist cross country program which has won the AAAA girls’ state championship the last five consecutive years and has claimed the boys’ title four of the past five seasons.
“When you get a group of like-minded souls together who are willing to hurt and are willing to train and commit themselves, there’s no limit on what they can accomplish and they have proven that already,” coach Eric Heintz said.
Both Marist teams appear to be on track to successfully defend their state titles, with the girls winning three of their first five meets and the boys winning two and finishing runner-up in another one.
“We are where we expected to be,” Heintz said. “The first part of the season, we didn’t improve much. We compete, but we’re not going to see a lot of drops in our times early in the season. But we’re in the meat of the year now when we’ll start really seeing people dropping times and improving, which is very exciting.”
The Marist girls lost Kate Northrup, a stalwart performer on their last four state championship teams who graduated, but return the rest of their key runners as well as adding on a number of promising freshmen.
Junior Morgan Ilse has been showing the form that won her the AAAA state girls’ individual title last year, running a personal-best 18 minutes, one second in a runner-up finish at the Darlington Cross Country Festival in Rome Sept. 28.
Freshman Anna Renou and junior Caitie Faust have also stepped up for the War Eagles.
Renou had a season-best 19:12 at the Warpath Invitational in Canton Sept. 14, while Faust ran 19:37 at both the Bob Blastow Early Bird meet in Douglasville Aug. 24 and the Darlington one.
“They’re the hardest working group of girls that I ever had the joy of being able to coach,” Heintz said. “That’s the key to their success, that they’re willing to go out there and work hard and suffer. The hard work pays off if you outwork your opponent. They have done a great job of that and I’m very proud of them.”
The boys’ team is led by a strong foursome that includes seniors Michael Thurston and Daniel Navarro — last year’s AAAA boys’ state champion and runner-up, respectively — as well as sophomore Frank Pittman and senior Jim Galvin.
Thurston (15:45) and Navarro (15:50) both ran their season-best times in finishing first and second, respectively, at the Early Bird, while Pittman recorded 16:18 at the Early Bird and the Warpath and Galvin’s best mark was 16:31 at the Warpath.
“We have a top four that can rival anyone in the state,” Heintz said. “It’s one of the best top fours Marist has ever had and that’s saying a lot. With Michael and Jim as co-captains, they provide a lot more to us than just fast times.”
Now, with only the Coach Wood Invitational in Gainesville Oct. 19 on its schedule before the Region 6AAAA meet, which it hosts Oct. 28, and the state meet in Carrollton Nov. 9, Heintz said his team is now entering the final phase of its training schedule.
“Our biggest goal is to keep everyone healthy and let ourselves freshen up a bit, because we had a pretty heavy training schedule,” Heintz said.
“We’re actually going to be cutting some of the training load. We’re going to be reducing mileage and just make sure these kids are fresh and healthy so they can run to their full potential.”