Chasing a championship

By Kevin Eckleberry Sports Editor

November 6, 2013

It comes down to one day, to one race, to one opportunity.

The LaGrange High boys’ cross-country team has enjoyed an exceptional season.

The Grangers have exceled in numerous meets, including the Region 5-AAAA meet that they won last week, and they’ve held their own against some of the state’s best teams.

Now, the Grangers are ready to chase a state championship.

Saturday morning in Carrollton, LaGrange will be among the favorites to race away with the top spot in the Class AAAA state meet.

State meets in all six classifications will be held on the same day at the same location, and the Class AAAA boys’ race is set for 9:10 a.m.

Marist heads into state as the top-ranked team, but LaGrange isn’t far behind.

“This is the culmination of everything they’ve done, and everything they’ve worked for,” LaGrange head coach Brad Wilson said.

The Grangers earned their spot at state by rolling to the championship at the region meet.

Andrew Coggins, who is wrapping up an exceptional cross-country career, finished second in that race with a time of 15 minutes, 47 seconds.

Sam Bowie (16:07) was third, Garrett Cashwell (16:17) was fourth, and Jonathan Pelham (16:37) was sixth.

Ben Anderson (17:49) also had a terrific race at region, and he was 21st overall, and fifth for the team.

That’s important because, at a cross-country meet, the top five places count toward the team total.

Gabe White (18:19) was 28th at region, and Will Wooten (19:11) was 36th.

The top four runners have remained consistent throughout the season, but different runners have stepped up to fill that fifth spot.

Pelham said the performances of Anderson, White and Woooten have been critical to the team’s success.

“Ben Anderson, Gabe White and Will Wooten, their competition for the fifth spot has just made us so much better,” Pelham said. “The three of them have really helped build our team to where it is this year. The three of them working together has been huge.”

As for the men at the top, they’ve have all had terrific seasons, including Coggins, who set the school cross-country record with a time of 15:23 at the Asics Invitational in October.

Coggins also finished first in his division at the Coach Wood Invitational, and he won the county championship.

Bowie, a sophomore who finished seventh at state as a freshman, has also had some outstanding results this season.

He was the team’s top finisher in the first four meets this season, and that included a second-place finish at the Sandy Creek Classic, and a fourth-place finish in the Bob Blastow Early Bird race.

Cashwell, a senior, and Pelham, a junior, have been the team’s third and fourth-place finishers in every race this season.

Some races it’s Cashwell finishing third, and in other races Pelham has taken that spot.

Those men have helped LaGrange’s program make enormous strides the past few years with Wilson at the helm.

Wilson is in his third season as the Grangers’ head coach.

The times have dropped dramatically, and in just a few years, LaGrange has established itself as one of the state’s elite teams.

“You have to have kids who are willing to work,” Wilson said. “That’s the biggest thing is how many kids are not willing to do it. When we first started, we ran some kids off. The ones that stuck with it, they’ve been more than up to the task. It’s what they do over the summer when we can’t even be around. When they get out there in late May, June, and July, that’s when championships are won. The fact that we had the kind of leadership from Andrew to get those guys out there, and the leadership from our other captain, Jonathan Pelham, to get those guys out there. That’s really what started it.”

“You’ve got to have five guys that are willing to put in the work. We’ve found them. It’s been a fun ride.”

Cashwell, one of three seniors who’ll be running on Saturday along with Coggins and Wooten, said a big difference is what the runners do during the summer.

“We were about as busy as we could have been during the summer,” Cashwell said. “Hopefully we’ve had enough training to carry us through. This is my first time ever training over the summer, and it’s really helped out a lot. I’ve got people like Pelham and Andrew out there to keep me going.”

Things really started to fall into place a year ago for the Grangers.

Bowie joined the varsity program and gave LaGrange a formidable one-two combination along with Coggins.

Both of those runners finished in the top-10 at state, and LaGrange finished fourth as a team.

Heading into the 2013 season, with Bowie and Coggins back along with Pelham and Cashwell, the Grangers figured to be even better.

To help with the team’s progress, Wilson entered the Grangers in a handful of elite meets, including the Battle of Atlanta, the Asics Invitational and the Coach Wood Invitational.

All three of those meets featured many of the state’s best teams.

“Going to coach Wood, and Battle of Atlanta and all that stuff, last year we never could have imagined going to that, and doing well,” Pelham said. “It’s good to be able to go to the big-boy meets and do well. The competition, especially at Asics, the championship race, was just ridiculous. Everybody was flying. In order to keep up, you’ve got to go.

“When we get to state, it won’t be as big a deal. Will be nervous? Yes. But we’ve been to big-time meets.”

That mindset is why Wilson put the schedule together.

He wanted his runners to get used to competing against elite runners.

“We’ve gone and run at Asics against the best teams. We’ve gone to coach Wood against 40 of the best teams in the state,” Wilson said. “That really helped out in the sense that we’ll go up there and for our guys, and our girls, it won’t be anything new. Every week we’ve raced against the top teams in the state. This is just another race to go out there and get it done.”