The Pace girls are gearing up for another run at a state title as they return the bulk of the team that finished fifth in the Class A private school meet a year ago.
Meanwhile, the Knights look equally promising on the boys’ side as they seek to improve on last season’s 10th-place state finish.
The husband-and-wife team of Steve and Jolie Cunningham continues its long tenure at the head of the Pace cross country program, with Steve in his 33rd year as the boys’ coach and Jolie in her 23rd season at the girls’ helm.
“We’ve got all of our top girls back, plus a few more,” Jolie Cunningham said. “This is the largest team [both boys and girls] that we’ve had since we’ve been here. We’ve got 60 kids out there — boys and girls together, obviously —and it’s a great group on both sides. Young talent has come in with the veteran group and we’re really excited about the season.”
The Pace boys, ranked second among Class A private schools in last week’s GA MileSplit.com state poll, feature a group of promising freshmen to go along with the returning core of runners who led the Knights to their 10th-place state result in 2012.
“I’m just real excited,” Steve Cunningham said. “We have a crop of young freshmen that have come in that we knew were going to be good. We now have consistently two or three freshmen in our top 10, so that’s very encouraging.”
The Pace boys started out the season with a fifth-place finish out of 20 teams at the Our Lady of Mercy Invitational in Fairburn Aug. 24 and a 12th-place showing out of 20 squads at the Covered Bridge Invitational in Roswell Sept. 7.
Senior Josh Rogers, an 11th-place finisher at the state meet last year, won the boys’ race at the Covered Bridge Invitational (16 minutes, 43 seconds) and was runner up at the Our Lady of Mercy meet (16:49).
Sophomore Xori Johnson, a standout sprinter on the Pace track team in the spring, is a newcomer to the school’s cross country squad and has showed some promise early on.
Sophomore Alec Rogers, seniors Bobby Stonecipher — a team co-captain with Josh Rogers — and Mark DiMeglio and junior Mark Grenader are joined by freshmen Max Irvine, Connor LaMastra, Rob Warren and Alex Kaye.
“Even starting out the season, even though we have had a couple of surprises, we were still looking to be on the podium to finish in the top four and that’s still one of our goals,” Steve Cunningham said. “We just have to climb that ladder as high as we can.”
The Pace girls, ranked third among the Class A private schools in the GA MileSplit.com poll, placed fourth out of 19 teams at the Our Lady of Mercy meet and fifth out of 16 squads at the Covered Bridge one.
“We’ve really seen some good stuff out of both races,” Jolie Cunningham said. “So we’re just looking to see what we can do as we look [ahead to the Region 5A meet in October] and, obviously, we would like to qualify for state.”
The Pace girls make up for their lack of a standout runner who leads the way with a solid group that can run as a pack and finish closely together among the top finishers in a race.
“We are really preaching running as a pack and they’re doing it,” Jolie Cunningham said. “We’ve got eight that can be in that top group, and we have a lot of shuffling among our seven, eight, nine and 10 runners — which is great, because it keeps everybody pushing each other during the workouts.”
Senior Callie Cunningham (21:39), junior Hannah Kelley (21:44.58) and freshman Julia Ross (21:44.75) finished 31st, 32nd and 33rd, respectively, for the Pace girls at the Covered Bridge meet, while sophomore Jilly Paul (39th, 21:59), junior Lacey O’Sullivan (41st, 22:02), senior Emilia Tripodi (89th, 23:31) and junior Katie Nelson (99th, 23:46) were the Knights’ other top finishers.