Grace Christian Academy middle school Cross Country crowned state champions

Published 12:24 pm Monday, October 9, 2023

The Grace Christian Academy middle school Cougars are state champions.

The Cougars raced in the GIAA MS End of Season Invitational on Saturday. Henry Lee took first place, Caellum Bush took second place, Perry Glenn took fourth place, Aaron Pritchard took 14th place and Jackson Tippens took 17th place. 

“It’s exciting,” said Cougars head coach Heather Smith. “One of them was like, ‘I didn’t run the time I wanted to,’ and I was like, ‘Guess what, you’re a state champion!”

Email newsletter signup

Going into the title race, Smith researched the other teams to get an idea of how her runners would have to perform to place first. 

“I told our top three runners that they needed to be in the top five, which they’re capable of doing,” Smith said. “I told our fourth or fifth runners that they needed to be in the top fifteen.”

They did that, and Lee came out with a first-place finish and a personal best 11:50.02 time. Bush finished right behind him with an ​​11:50.07, a personal best as well.

“Basically, [Lee] won by a foot, like just really his foot going over,” Smith said. “That’s how close it was.” 

Glenn finished in fourth and ran a personal best 12:13.11 time. Rounding out the personal bests was Pritchard, who ran a 15:13.83 and finished in 14th place. Tippens anchored the Cougars with a 15:48.27 time and 17th-place finish, giving the Cougars a team score of 23. Their 23 beat the next-best team by 22 points.

“I’ve been telling the boys all season that if they ran certain times and work together as a team and fill in the gaps, that they had the opportunity to place high at states,” Smith said. “And sure enough, we came in first.”

Smith said she was especially proud of Pritchard’s performance at the meet. The first-time cross country runner had a “big jump in dropping his time” this season, and Smith said he was debating even running at all at the season’s start.

“He questioned if he wanted to run cross country for a minute,” Smith said. “I was like, ‘Oh, you’ve just got to stick out, work it out. Keep following the training, and your two-mile is going to be easier as the season goes on.’ He bought into it… it just made it even more special.”

The Cougars season isn’t ever yet. Their next race is the Bearcats Invitational at Bainbridge High School on Saturday, Oct. 14. Race start is at 9:15 a.m.