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Mustangs grab 10th place in Class AAAAA

GUYTON — The South Effingham boys cross country team finished 10th overall in the chilly GHSA Class AAAAA meet won by Decatur on Friday.

The stellar finish means the Mustangs’ program is still one of the best in the state. Heading into it, head coach Laura Soles was feeling optimistic about the boys achieving another podium finish.  

“My expectations were really high and I think they could feel that,” Soles said. “I was thinking fifth or sixth for the boys but, of course, everybody brought their A-game. (My kids) were running as fast as they were last year. I think the goal I had for them was to focus on the course.

“I’ve been to state several times and it’s never been that cold so that my was big concern.”

Cailan Howard continued to impress, pacing the South Effiingham pack with a time of 17:49. He was the first to cross the finish line for the Mustangs, coming in 21st place. Jacob Mitchell placed 46th at 18:17 and Ronald Way punched in a time of 18:22, which was good for 52nd.

The Lady Mustangs finished 19th overall. Cheyenne Ryan finished 61st overall and led her pack with a time of 22:47. Melanie Ripley (23:26) followed in 83rd place and Diya Patel (23:39) came in 89th.

South Effingham took on a competitive field, with the eventual winner McIntosh placing four runners in the top 15.

Realizing her team was intimidated by the tough course, Soles challenged them to focus on setting a personal record.

“They did awesome at (the Region 2-AAAAA meet) and their average was good,” Soles said. “(I told them) let’s just focus on the time on this course and they succeeded in that.”

Soles can’t help but think about next year, admitting 2018 has been a season of maturation. Although a veteran coach, Soles said she will be implementing new strategies to ensure both teams can produce the numbers they need to sustain the ebb and flow course at Carrollton. And that starts with taking more trips out of town where they will see elite runners from some of the best programs in their classification.

“They are learning and I am growing with them,” Soles said. “They have the fire and last year they rode behind some of the seniors. When we run around here, it’s always first place.

“On the bus, we discussed doing some meets around the mountains. We do run on the hills here, but they need to run against some competition on the hills.”

Soles is committed to fundraising efforts and putting her teams in the best meets to grow and develop her young core of runners.

“I have a whole team of tenth graders that have two years of experience at state,” she said. “I am just learning and having time to deal with them. We are going to have a really good year. They are building a commitment. It’s a culture. That was my motivation. They are not some team passing through.

“We’ve been region champs for two years. We have to look beyond South Effingham. We have to get more money and travel and go to these big meets.”