All season long the Berkeley Stags cross country team looked up at Region 8AAA foes James Island and Hanahan in meet results and in the region standings.
In the Lower State meet at Sandhills Researach park in Columbia all that changed.
The Stags finished 12th, edging the rival Hawks by two points, 295–297, to advance as a team to the Class AAA State Meet on Saturday.
This is a first for Coach Melissa Hicks in just her third year at the helm of the Stags cross country team and a big feather in the program’s cap.
“My goal was for as many of my runners to place within the top 45 runners as possible, which would allow them to go on to the State cross country meet,” Hicks said. “I was hoping for at least two of my runners to qualify, Austin Clewis and Tony Lilly.
“Well, the boys did much better than that … they placed 12th as a team, which qualifies the whole team to travel to the state meet next Saturday.”
Austin Clewis proved lightning can strike twice, garnering his second visit to the Class AAA state meet by finishing 13th out of 164 runners with a time of 17:31.
This year he won’t be running alone.
Tony Lilly finished in 43rd place with a time of 18:32. Both runners were guaranteed a spot in the State meet based on their individual places.
Vance Bailey placed 62nd less than 12 hours after kicking four field goals in the football team’s 26-6 win over Hilton Head place with a time of 18:58.
Justin Dalton finished 73rd with a time of 19:17, A. J. Gavins placed 109th with a time of 20:23,
Aaron Grant finished 116th with a time of 20:29, and Caleb Zink placed 120th overall with a time of 20:35.
All seven runners will represent the Stags at the Class AAA state meet on Saturday.
On the girls’ side, out of 139 total runners competing, Carol Brayton finished in 73rd place with a time of 24:00 and Taylor Campbell placed 85th with a time of 24:20.
This year the girls did not have enough runners to field a team.
Edging Hanahan couldn’t be sweeter for Hicks.
“After losing third place in the Region 8AAA meet last week to Hanahan I was a little discouraged,” she said. “Qualifying as a team to travel to the State meet was not even a thought in my mind.”
In her first year coaching Hicks qualified two runners for the Class AAA state meet in Matthew Kizer and Ryan Dresden. In her second year Clewis qualified.
“It was a very pleasant shock to find out that we not only made it to state, but that I will be taking my whole varsity team. I am looking forward to our final week of practice and heading to state on Saturday as a team.”
Her team’s first appearance in state level competition will serve as a solid cornerstone for future teams.
“This meet has set us up for accomplishing so great things next year,” Hicks said. “The core of my runners are 10th grade or younger, which means I will have them for a few more years and maybe we can make going to the state meet as a team a yearly tradition.”