By Dave Ongie
Two days after the University High boys brought home their first state cross country title in a decade, UH coach Maggie Whitson was still struggling to come to grips with the triumph.
“I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet except for that trophy sitting down in my entranceway,” Whitson said on Monday.
Whitson has always been a big believer in pack racing, and that philosophy paid off in a big way last Saturday at Percy Warner Park in Nashville. The Bucs put five runners inside the top 23 to easily outdistance runner-up L&M Stem Academy in the TSSAA Small School State Cross Country Championships.
As usual, it all started with Porter Bradley, who has paced the team-oriented Bucs all season long. Bradley got off the line well, and his teammates did the best they could to keep pace.
“Porter got out and he set a very impressive tone,” Whitson said.
Bradley eventually settled for a sixth-place finish with a time of 17:40, good enough to earn all-state honors. Pablo Rivas – a senior who provided valuable leadership to the Bucs despite missing most of the season due to injury – finished 10th to earn a spot on the podium and a spot on the all-state team.
The depth the Bucs achieved with their pack-running philosophy was too much for the other teams to overcome. Caleb Strickler (18th), Blake Rogers (19th) and Will Owen (23rd) all stuck together and pushed hard through the finish line.
When Whitson looks back on this team, she said she’ll remember the way each runner embraced the team-first approach it took to win a championship.
“I’ll remember their heart for what they wanted,” Whitson said. “The goal was to win state. Once they got that mindset right, they started working together as a team.”