Chamblee Charter High School’s Cross Country team is in for a challenge. But the team is resilient and determined, and will settle for nothing less than success.
For the past two years, the Chamblee girls cross country team has won the region, and the boys have finished runner up, with both moving onto the state meet. But after losing many graduating seniors over the summer, the team is working harder than ever to ensure it returns to the state meet.
“I think this year, [reaching the state meet] is going to be more of a challenge,” said Cross Country Coach Jennifer Tinnell. “I think we can, but we have got to be consistent and stay healthy. We are only just starting.”
When Tinnell preaches consistency, she is referring to commitment. Commitment is key in order for the team to succeed this year due not only to the loss of significant seniors, but also the size of the team as a whole.
“[The team] is smaller than what we’ve had in the past.” said Tinnell. “But it’s honestly not about numbers. It’s about how hard those that are out there are willing to work.”
According to Tinnell, this will be especially true for the girls.
“We had a really strong season with the girls last year, and lost some significant runners, so the girls are really going to have to find it within themselves to work hard and come together,” said Tinnell. “We need some girls to step up. But they have so much pride, so I think they will be able to.”
Leading the girls is senior Maddie Miller, who is also one of the team’s captains. She immensely enjoys the opportunities and responsibilities that come with being captain, as it gives her an opportunity to be with the other girls and support them.
“I looked up to Beining [Xiao] and Paris [Williams] last year, so it is important to me that there is someone that the girls on the team can talk to.” said Miller. “And it is not just with running, but also with [talking about] their lives. If someone is having a problem, it is nice that I can help them.
Now that Miller is a senior, her goal is not to reach a certain time, but to just make the most out of the season and enjoy it as much as she can.
And while it’s to early in the season to tell who will be committed to the team in the long run, Tinnell has high hopes the sophomore boys.
“We have a really strong 10th grade class.” said Tinnell. “It’s too soon to say specific names, but we have a lot of returning runners and new boys in that class.”
One of the sophomore boys that has made a notable impact is Lincoln McDonald. It is only McDonald’s first year on the team, and three weeks into practice, he is already on the varsity team.
“I’m honestly very surprised I was able to make varsity my first year.”
Not only did he make the varsity team, but he, along with junior Alyssa Wu, were the first to receive the Runners of the Week recognition this season.
The first race the team ran in was the infamously difficult Kosh Classic, at which McDonald had a time of 22:29. He personally attributes this to his mental strength even more so than his actual endurance.
“I might have the same physical endurance as the person running next to me, but I am mentally stronger and can fight through [the pain] better than they can,” said McDonald.
That means when Lincoln and his opponents reach the home stretch of a race and feel like they are about to collapse, he has the fortitude to keep pushing through the pain longer than his opponent does.
Lincoln started running for multiple reasons. Like many of the new athletes on the team, Lincoln joined to get exercise and to stay in shape for another sport. But what started as an exercise effort turned into something that he is very much enjoying.
“I’ve always tried different types of athletics and I’ve always been decent at them at least, but the one thing I always sucked at was running,” said McDonald. “I used to hate running. But I wanted to get some exercise. And now, [after starting with the team] I love it.”
But Cross Country is a team sport through and through, and coach Hakeem Felts stressed repeatedly that it was a team effort and that it was not about focusing on one specific runner.
“The goal is to get better everyday. We have a goal as a team to compete in every event we participate in, and that does not change from year to year,” said Felts. “It is hard to select any singular runner [as a standout] because as a team, everybody gives such great effort.”
At the end of the day, the team is focused simply on staying healthy, consistently improving, and having fun. If the team can do those three things, a return to the state meet is completely possible. Only time will tell if enough runners will display the commitment required to step up and help the team make its push for success.