The final regular season cross country race, the first annual Pickens (& Grinnin’s) Invitational, (previously known as the Sharpton Invitational), took place in Pickens County on Saturday, Oct. 13.
Driven by strong individual lead runners, both teams finished respectably on the day, with the boys’ team placing fourth overall and the girls’ team crossing the line with a 13th on the day.
The race featured a slightly different course layout as compared to previous years and resulted in slightly slower times overall as the entire field of 25 teams adjusted to the new route.
“The course on Saturday seemed to run a little slower than Unicoi,” said Coach Charles Beusse. “But not by much.”
A bigger concern for the teams was an early season flu that deprived both teams of strong runners. The men’s team entered the day without runner Nico Poston, while the girl’s team found themselves short Avery Young. Illness also forced the decision to have Cody Wood run at a work-out pace instead of his normal racing pace, and he still managed to post the team’s third fastest time on the day.
“I felt like the boys had a decent showing considering we were not racing at full strength,” Beusse said. “I'm sure that having [Avery Young] out on Saturday did impact the team score for our girls.”
Having found himself thrust into the lead runner position on the day, junior Ben McGinnis rose to the challenge and posted his best time on the season at 16:14.69, a mere 9.7 seconds off the lead pace set by the overall winner Devin Wade out of Pope High School.
McGinnis’ third place finish gave the team the edge they needed to squeeze out a top-five finish out of a field of 25 teams as he was followed by teammates Wiley Dennis, Will Mulberry and Luke Hamby across the line as scoring runners.
“There is work to be done prior to region and state,” Beusse said. “I feel that our boys are driven and understand the task at hand and will show up when the time comes.”
Finishing second overall in a field 189 individual runners, senior Frankie Muldoon led the girl’s team with her time of 19:26.07. Despite strong individual races from Molly Muenchen, Isabelle Kinsey and Bri Ray, all of whom have showed great improvement on the season according to Beusse, the team was outpaced by the other teams and finished a disappointing 13th on the day.
“We aren't going to let a bad day at Pickens get us down. In sports the only important event is the next one ahead of you,” Beusse said. “Our sole focus at this point in time is on region next Thursday [Oct. 25].”
The teams will race at Unicoi State Park in Helen.