Bishop’s boys and girls enjoy repeat championships

Nov. 07, 2013 @ 08:27 PM

The Bishop McGuinness boys and girls cross-country teams knew there’d be pressure. Rarely do defending state champions go unnoticed.

All season — during the grueling heat of summer training through the crisp chill of autumn competitions — the Villains prepared themselves to handle it, perform well and compete for another state championship.

On Saturday at Beeson Park in Kernersville, Bishop’s boys, in a close race, and girls, by a comfortable margin, achieved their goals of defending their NCHSAA 1A state titles, becoming just the fifth program — and the first in the 1A — in state history to both do so.

“That was my goal and I know it was the team’s to win back-to-back,” said coach Robert Youtz, in his ninth year at the school. “For me, it was a lot of pressure to do both. It’s hard to deal with it, when one team wins and the other doesn’t. But I’m on cloud nine — I’m very excited about it, especially for the seniors.”

Over the years, Bishop has developed a focused training regimen, building miles over the summer, then increasing speed in the fall. The work is challenging but has proven successful. The Villains are perennial state contenders and also won a girls title in 2008.

There’s a sense surrounding the program about doing things a particular way — training hard and being disciplined with stretching and diet — that starts with Youtz, who ran in college and still runs, and his assistants and translates to the runners.

“I think Coach Youtz knows exactly what he’s doing,” junior Bryan Soltis said. “And I also think it’s the dedication that we put into it. We’re practicing two hours in the summer, eating right, going to practice six days a week — it’s that dedication from the whole team.

“It’s definitely difficult, but all year we talk about it. We didn’t go a day without talking about states or at least mentioning it. It’s always in the back of our minds what we’re working toward. It’s not: Let’s get through today’s practice. It’s: Do the practice right and do it fast.”

After last year, the Villains returned many of their top runners and added several strong newcomers. Their expectations were high, but they didn’t harp on it. Instead, they focused on building toward their goals, keeping healthy and competing.

Throughout the season, Bishop ran well and staved off major injuries (although No. 4 girls runner Lexi Weidman suffered an injury late in the season and didn’t run in regionals or states). And it developed enough depth to keep ahead of setbacks.

After the boys and girls both won conference and regionals, the Villains went into the state championship on the familiar 5-kilometer course confident in their chances but knowing they did have to execute their game plans to win.

“We felt good,” senior Carly Kreber said. “We were nervous — anything can happen, that’s the thing about running and about any sport, I guess. Especially since we had a few runners that this was their first state championship.

“That’s a lot of pressure because you just don’t know. It’s such a different race, and we kept stressing: Just run it like any other 5K. We knew we didn’t need anyone to run out of their minds, but we just needed everyone to run like they’d been running.”

The girls — behind top-25 finishes by Kreber (fourth), Bailey Seach (sixth), Claire McDonough (16th) and Sarah Grace Johnson (25th) — won convincingly by 38 points over Lincoln Charter and 49 over Community School of Davidson.

Despite running extremely hard — several of Bishop’s runners needed attention after crossing the finish line — the boys, however, were still unaware of how they’d finished. In a tight race with Research Triangle and Elkin, there was no clear winner.

For two tense hours, everyone tried to piece together the results, hearing rumors of just how close it was. But nobody knew for sure until finally they were announced at the awards ceremony — Elkin 98, Research Triangle 95, Bishop 90.

“We lost it. We were all hugging and screaming,” said Soltis, who was 11th and finished in the top 25 with Jack Brannan (12th) and Peter Balogh (23rd). “Some of us were even crying, just congratulating each other. It was just an unbelievable feeling. One of the proudest moments of all of our lives.”

After a long, pressure-filled year, the Villains boys and girls finally celebrated their feat of winning back-to-back championships — joining Chapel Hill (which did it twice), Franklin (which won three in a row), T.C. Roberson and Cardinal Gibbons.

“It was a really cool experience,” Kreber said of winning back-to-back titles. “I’m glad I got to do it my senior year. And I’m kind of glad I won’t have the pressure of trying to do it again next year,” she added with a laugh.