The fifth annual Wingfoot Classic hosted by Atlanta Track Club, arguably the most prestigious and definitely the largest cross-country race in the state of Georgia, took place over the weekend of Sep. 20 and 21, and the Dawson County program was right in the thick of things as the boys’ raced in the championship bracket and the girls’ team notched their highest finish of the season at the varsity level.
Debuting a two-day format and racing at night for the first time in event history the action kicked off Friday with the Championship Race with a field that included eight of the top ten teams in the state. Based on their performance in last week’s Warpath Invitational, the Dawson County boys’ varsity team was given a last-minute invitation to race at the higher lever, an opportunity the team “jumped at” according to head coach Charles Beusse.
“The championship division offered us the chance to race against some of the best teams from across the south … being selected to compete in the championship division speaks volumes as to the strength of our team this year,” Beusse said. “Furthermore, our boys jumped at the opportunity to race better competition rather than wait until Saturday for the varsity division. I was proud of that because it really shows the mentality that our guys have. They want to race the best because they believe they can compete with them.”
As he has all season, senior Ben McGinnis led the Tigers across the finish line posting a 5k time of 16:31.10 which placed him in the top third of the 187 runners that participated. He was followed closely by fellow senior Collin Kilgore with a time of 15:45.50, placing him in the upper third as well. Junior Luke Hamby (17:19.50) sophomore Ethan Smith (17:35.90) and junior Brendan Swafford (17:41.00) rounded out the scoring runners for Dawson County.
“Ben McGinnis and Collin Kilgore had good races and our 3-5 spots continue to get better each week,” Beusse said. “Hamby, Smith, and Swafford once again had good races and continue to close the gap on Ben and Collin.”
The Lady Tigers took to the field on Saturday morning as they raced against 16 schools from across the state in a field of 146 runners. Seniors Evion Reinhardt (22:14.10) and Jenna LeCours (22:25.90) led the way for the team, crossing the line in 20th and 21st, respectively.
Juniors Celine Sapp (23:06.30) and Molly Muenchen (23:32.20) along with sophomore Kathryn Menoche, whose time of 24:15.70 marked a personal best for the season, all finished strong for Dawson County and pushed the team into a third place finish, their highest placing of the season thus far.
“On the girl's side, we also had a good race. Our girls raced really well and seem to have come together over the past two races,” Beusse said. “If our girls continue to improve … it can be exciting for our girls when region rolls around. As of now, it appears that we are locked in a tight race with Cherokee Bluff for the region title.”
The Dawson County cross-country program also got a glimpse of their future during the week as the middle school teams, coached by Jonathan Tinsley, wrapped up their regular season with a pair of exemplary performances on Sep. 21 in a meet that consisted of teams from Gilmer, Rabun, Union, Fannin and North Georgia Christian.
Hayden Hand captured first place overall in the field of 80 runners as she led the middle school Lady Tigers to their fourth first-place finish of the season in race that saw all five Dawson County runners cross the finish line in the top-ten. Hand was followed closely by Bella Hunt in second place overall, Anna LeCave in fourth, Julie Phillips in sixth and Izzie Knight in ninth place as the team easily ran away from the rest of the field.
The boys’ team added three top-ten finishers of their own to capture their third second place team finish in a row with Chase Cofield crossing the line in seventh, followed by Luke Lowe and Dylan Green in ninth and tenth. Cael Hand finished just outside the top-ten in eleventh, while Bailey Swafford rounded out the scoring in seventeenth.
“The entire team had a great race on Tuesday,” Tinsley said. “I’m so proud of all the runners and how hard they are working.”The middle schoolers will be back in action on Tuesday, Sep. 24 when they travel to Union County to compete for the regional title, while the varsity teams head into a bye week in preparation for regional competition that begins with the Mountain Invitational at Unicoi State Park in the first weekend of October.