Last Saturday, the top-ranked Woodland girls cross country team won the 2016 Class AAAAA State Championship to cap off an outstanding season of races by the Lady Cats. Woodland had five runners to finish in the top twenty individual spots of the state championship race and all seven team members finished in the top 70 of 195 runners.
The Lady Cats defeated second place Starr's Mill by 28 points, with McIntosh, Flowery Branch, and Grady rounding out the top five of 27 teams that qualified for the state finals.
WOODLAND GIRLS (state championship race position, time)
Carli Clymer (5th, 20:09)
Tess Cochran (8th, 20:26)
Cheyenne Spinks (15th, 21:12) McKenna Trapheagen (19th, 21:20) Lindsay Scifers (37th, 22:00)
Casey Bolan (59th, 23:10)
Makenzie Stephenson (69th, 23:19)
Now that a few days have passed, Woodland head coach Matthew Landolt took time to reflect on the 2016 state championship season and shared his thoughts with BartowSportsZone.com.
1. The team performed so well all year, at what point did you begin to think the group might actually win the state title?
At the beginning of each season we try to set some realistic team goals. After considering the talent we had returning and the incoming freshmen we felt that we could make the podium at state for the first time in school history.
For me personally, the first time I thought about a possible win at state was after the Carrollton Orthopedic Invitational which is the same course as the state meet. We arrived with two of our top girls out with minor injuries and we all realized our seventh girl would count toward our score that day.
Many athletes see a situation like that as a “lost cause” because we were only seeded fourth at full strength and we were likely to fall another three to six places with the missing athletes. Instead of faltering to the adverse situation, the remaining girls rallied together and finished second at that meet. That’s the moment I really felt like this group had the mindset required to get the win.
2. After the girls received the No. 1 ranking, did it add pressure and (if so) what were some of the things you did to try and alleviate that pressure?
It absolutely added a challenge to the season. We first received our #1 seed ranking in late September so the pressure of that moniker followed them for the six weeks up to the state championship. I think the coaching staff tried to emphasis that we had our race strategy and we needed to “race our race” regardless of how other teams approached each course.
I think the knowledge that we are a young team helped reduce the stress for many of the athletes but as much as we tried to avoid it, we all wanted to go the distance this year.
3. Who improved the most to put you in state title contention this year?
That’s an easy question but I don’t think the answer is a specific individual, the answer is the team’s chemistry. I have been coaching at Woodland for five years and one of the biggest difficulties I encounter is the belief that “the easy way is more fun”…this belief challenged the “hard work to succeed” mindset. Our returning leaders, Lindsay Scifers and Cheyenne Spinks were able to harness the work ethic of our incoming athletes and focus everyone’s energy on a singular goal: maximize our potential.
4. Even state championship teams face adversity during the season. What were some of the adverse situations or issues the girls overcame?
Everyone in our organization has their personal expectations and sometimes they run concurrent to each other. As their coach, sometimes you are forced to make a tough decision and it will disappoint some of the stakeholders in your organization. You just hope that people forgive you for those decisions because ultimately, we all want the best for our kids.
For example, at one point in the season, we had to make a difficult decision as whether to run at the Bartow County Championship or to rest the varsity girls for the Nike Coach Wood Invitational where they faced top-ranked competition. My decision cost Woodland a potential county championship, but I still believe it was the right call.
5. When will the team have its formal celebration and will there be a state championship ring ceremony?
We are planning to present the championship rings at a pep rally in January or February.
6. With such a young team (and the talented middle school athletes coming up), what’s the future look like for the Lady Cats?
If you asked my girls, they would say they want nothing more than to compete at the Disney Invitational that happens every October. They have seen rival team Cartersville race there in the past and have always been envious.
If you asked me, I would love to see Woodland’s Cross Country program become a known scholarship factory. Many college coaches have favorite high school programs they continuously recruit from and I’d love to see more of our girls get to use their talents to obtain a free education.
7. Who are the assistant coaches, volunteers, etc. you want to recognize for their contribution to your successful year?
Thank you to our high school coaching staff: Rob Forbes, David Holloway and Lance Marvel. They have all been essential to managing the many aspects of this amazing season. Also, a big thank you to our middle school coaches Sherry Spinks, David Gierlak, and Barbara Marvel who have discovered these girls and instilled their passion into these young ladies. Last, thank you to our parents who have tolerated the early morning practices, the day long meets and my endless supply of text messages.
8. From now until next August, what will the training schedule look like for your runners?
We hope that most of them will plan lots of “fun runs” over the next two months. I believe it’s important for runners to just get out and run for enjoyment without always doing a specific type of workout. Once January happens our athletes will begin to keep a running log of the miles they accumulate. For most of them, they will begin a spring sport (track, soccer, etc) or at least some form of off season conditioning.
9. Anything else you wish to included?
I would like to say thank you to the local community for all the support this year. After the first meet, we had more first time attendees at our events than I have ever experience in 9 years of coaching. These were individuals who had no background in competitive running but showed up curious about the team and left the event excited to see them race again. It was amazing to watch these girls share their passion for running with everyone who came in contact with them. It has been an experience I will never forget.
Last, as much as we hate to ask for community help, we now face the challenge of funding state rings for the girls. If any local business or individuals are willing to help us fund these rings, we would gladly welcome their assistance. This year we were donated warm-ups suits from Brooks Running Company (Thank You Brooks) and we’d like to sell advertising space on these to help fund our state rings. Anyone willing to help, please contact Matthew Landolt at Woodland High School or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you!