By Blake Ells
The Mountain Brook boys cross-country team won its 14th state championship on Nov. 11 at Oakville.
The Spartans had four finishers in the top 17, including Charlie Slaughter at second and Hunter Harwell at eighth. Joseph Pitard and Gram Denning finished 16th and 17th, respectively. Sophomore Eric Alexander place 41st.
Vestavia Hills senior James Sweeney concluded a dominant season as the top finisher at the state championship. Only Homewood’s Will Stone, who often trains with Sweeney, managed to top Sweeney this season. That happened twice.
“We thought we had a chance as a team,” said Sweeney, whose team placed third behind Huntsville. “We knew that it would be really close between us, Huntsville and Mountain Brook. We knew that everything had to fall into place for everybody and that we’d need to run perfectly, if not better than we had all season. A lot of those guys were running in a state championship for the first time, and I’m extremely proud of all that they did.”
Vestavia topped the Spartans earlier this season, but injuries have nagged the Rebels and proved too much to overcome. Sweeney will compete at Butler next season. He’s one of four departing seniors for the Rebels, with Joseph Gilroy, Grayson Holbert and William Tapscott also concluding their high school careers. He’s confident that the team he leaves behind can reach even greater heights.
“Those guys are my brothers,” Sweeney said. “We’ve gone through a lot together and they’ve got a lot of talent coming back. They’ve got Ethan Strand, who’s a freshman. If he stays healthy, he’s a force to be reckoned with. And there are a bunch of sophomores that are really strong. Bryce (Hutchinson), my counterpart, he’s only a junior.
The Mountain Brook girls team finished third behind Auburn and Huntsville. Seventh-grader Reagan Riley was their top finisher, placing fourth. Sophomore Lilly Hulsey finished 10th, while junior Anna Balzli finished 12th, sophomore Tessa Allen finished 23rd and sophomore Amanda Jones finished 27th.
“None of our top five are seniors, so they’ll all be back,” said coach Michael McGovern. “Winning state championships is tough in any sport. The roll we’ve been on with the girls team is remarkable and we’re a victim of our own success because other teams are starting to realize what they’re capable of. Auburn’s starting to have a strong middle school program that feeds them well, which is what we built our success on.”
That middle school program proved vital this season as Riley was called up to compete with the high school team.
“Reagan trained with them all year, but when it came to sectionals time, we knew that she was good enough to run with us,” said McGovern. “They didn’t have any problems letting her come up to run varsity.”
Westminster-Oak Mountain Claims First Boys’ Title
Westminster of Oak Mountain completed a sweep posting 43 points to capture the boys’ 1A/2A state championship. It was the first in school history for the Shelby County school. Westminster also won the girls’ competition earlier in the day.