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Decatur High School girls cross country team wins second state championship

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Decatur High School girls cross country team wins second state championship

Photo caption: The Girls' Cross Country team celebrates with the state trophy. Photo by Keson Graham (@kesonthedhspics on Instagram)

By David McFarland, contributor 

Decatur, GA — The Decatur High School Girls Cross Country team hoisted the 5A GHSA State trophy on Nov. 3 in Carrolton, GA, after a stellar performance across the board in the deciding meet.

Decatur’s score of 54 — the sum of each of its individual placements out of a field of over 200 racers — placed it first of 31 schools. On an individual level three runners placed in the top 10: Junior Sophie D’Elena in 2nd, Senior Maggie Welp in 7th, and Junior Anna Blaich in 9th. The girls now have a second state trophy in as many years, part of the five total state titles Decatur has lifted in the last five years , all in cross country running. 

This year’s winning team featured Anna Blaich, Sage Chatham-Stephens, Sophie D’Elena, Maya Mikrut, Olivia Sawyer, Kate Sherwood, and Maggie Welp, while the alternates were Anna Lothridge, Penelope Goebel, Ily Herman, Averill Payne, and Leah Robertson led by coaches Mary Souther, Jack Amick, Charles Hunter, Paul Johnson, Tramell Smith, Casey Todd, Larika Frazier and Nicole Rabold. 

Head Coach Mary Souther described the moment the Bulldogs won the title.

“Meeting the girls as they came out of the finish chute, and answering the question of, ‘How did we do?’ with ‘we won!’ was the best moment this season,” Souther said. “Knowing what some of those girls had gone through to get to this place brought tears to my eyes at the same time that I was jumping up and down in excitement with them.”  

Senior Maggie Welp described the crowning point of the season.

“My favorite moment from winning state was definitely when I had just finished the race and had found out we won,” she said. “We had so much competition this year and many people predicted that we wouldn’t win, so when I found out we had won it felt even more special. I also placed 7th individually, which was such an amazing feeling, considering the fact that I would’ve never expected to place that high in a field of over 200 girls.”

This triumph has been a long time coming, building on both the seasons and successes from years prior, but also the incredible effort shown by Decatur this year.

“The athletes on our team are willing to put in hours of training over the summer and during the school year, and are amazingly talented,” Souther said.

Welp agreed.

“Consistency is the biggest thing,” she said. “All of our runners are at practice every single day ready to work hard. There are even some weekends where we get together for a run or a workout. Another thing that has helped us win two state championships is confidence. Going into both of our state meets we knew that we were capable of winning, and after our win in 2022, we knew what it took to win again, and we knew that we were good enough to do it. Without the level of confidence that our team had going into the season, we wouldn’t have the titles that we have today.”

Souther said there are two main reasons the team is so consistently successful.

“First, we have a pipeline to the middle school and to the community at large,” she said. “We have two wonderful coaches at Beacon Hill, and we try to attend at least one or two races each season with the middle school team. Thus, we get kids coming up who are excited to be on this team and who know what kind of hard work is going to be expected. Also, the fact that we train in Legacy Park and see many other people from Decatur out there using the trails and the fields gives us a tie to the community and their support.” 

Decatur also benefits from staffers behind the scenes.

“We have a cadre of coaches who work together and bring many different talents to the table,” Souther said. “We have a ‘numbers guy,’ a coach who specializes in strength training and speed work, a trail-running specialist, and others. We all work together and learn from each other, and I believe the success of our athletes stems directly from this wealth of knowledge available.” 

Decatur’s success wouldn’t be so quite sweet without the struggle that went into it, and this season had no shortage of obstacles for the Bulldogs to overcome. 

“Running is the most mentally challenging sport out there,” Welp said. “It’s painful, it’s long and it’s daunting. All of us have had to overcome mental battles when it comes to racing. Injuries are also very common in our sport, so often times we have to take some time off or adjust our training schedule due to injuries. Personally speaking, I was injured for a few weeks in September, and it caused a major obstacle in my training and performance but also caused mental setbacks when I was recovering. ”

Coach Souther said the Bulldogs navigated many twists and turns on the path to another championship.

“Our main challenge has been the health — both physical and mental — of the athletes,” Souther said. “We can never forget that our runners are students first and that fact brings with it all the stress that IB, AP, and even regular classes have for kids. Some of our athletes came into the season with old injuries, and some had to take time off in the middle to make sure they stayed healthy. We try to balance understanding that the athletes have a lot going on with the desire to push them to be their best. It’s always a worry, but the girls obviously came through it.”

Came through they did, though, and the next step for Decatur will be to sit back and enjoy all of its hard work paying off before it all starts again next year.

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