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Sports: Waccamaw runners double up on gold medals
By Roger Greene
One team had a plan from the start. The other pieced things together as the year progressed.
And Saturday at the Sandhills Research Park in Columbia, each approach played out with both the Waccamaw High boys and girls cross country teams being crowned as Class AAA state champions.
The girls team placed five runners – Annabelle Scully, Alice Francke, Ella Fata, Anna Margaret Loftus and Briley Arnold – inside the top 17. The Warriors team total of 64 points easily outpaced second place May River (114) and Bluffton (129).
Junior Perrin Jones was third overall and senior Jack Moody placed ninth, leading a boys squad that had none of its top five runners finish any lower than 22nd. The Warrior boys also ran away from the competition, their team total of 71 outdistancing runner-up Bishop England (97) and third place May River (139).
“It’s amazing,” said Fata, whose time of 20:43 earned a ninth-place finish. “It’s a great group of girls we have on our team.”
“Being a senior, it was my last chance to be part of bringing home a state title,” Moody said. “We had been so close before, we earned this one. It wouldn’t have been possible without everyone on the team and the coaches.”
The girls won the AA title in 2015. The boys team had never won, though coach Rob Del Bagno did lead the squad to three consecutive runner-up finishes in Class AA. He conditioned his squad for a more patient approach this year, wanting fresh legs to play a part in conquering the demanding Sandhills layout.
Saturday “was the date we had targeted all year,” Del Bagno said. “We paced ourselves in every race. Trying to set individual bests wasn’t always important. What mattered was being fresh for Saturday.
“It paid off. It was a hotter day than usual and Sandhills is a tough course. There were some teams that crashed in the last mile. I thought we were still going pretty strong.”
“The strategy of holding back in certain meets was perfect,” said Jones, who posted a time of 16:52. “Coach Del Bagno told us time and again that running [personal records] at weekday meets didn’t matter because in the end, state is the most important race.
“We were fresh at the end. Our legs weren’t weighing us down.”
Moody (17:11) finished ninth finish and freshman Rion Keesee (17:30) placed 17th. Juniors Weston Stokes (20th, 17:44) and Berndt Anderson (22nd, 17:46) also picked up valuable points for the Warriors.
“Coach Del Bagno had been waiting for a trophy and it was inspiring to see his excitement,” Jones said. “We also wanted to do it for Jack. He’s our only senior and wouldn’t have another shot.”
A youth movement continued to power the Warrior girls, with Arnold, a senior, being the lone upperclassman among the top five. Eighth graders Scully (20:23) and Francke (20:35) led the way with finishes of seventh and 11th. Loftus (21:19), a seventh grader, placed 16th and Arnold (21:24) was 17th.
“I didn’t know what to expect when the season started,” White said. “I knew we had great talent, but we’re just very young. But the girls kept stepping up and putting things into place as we went along.
“We tried not to treat the state championship any differently than we did our other races. We didn’t want to put too much pressure on ourselves. I can’t say enough about how well the girls did. They were outstanding, just as they had been all year.”
“It’s a good feeling,” Arnold said. “All of our hard work paid off. It was a great way to end my high school career.”
Runners said overall chemistry between both teams also was a factor in their double championship. “We’re all family,” Fata said. “We’re a great group of friends and we love and care for each other very much.”
“Our friendships really helped us,” Moody said. “We’re more like a family than just teammates. We were able to fight harder because we wanted to see each other succeed.”