By Rubin E. Grant
As Homewood junior Will Stone was speeding to his second consecutive Class 6A boys cross-country state championship, he was just as concerned about how his teammates were doing.
“What I love about running cross-country is the camaraderie because it’s not just you, but also your teammates who you work with day in and day out,” Stone said.
“The individual title is awesome,” he added, “but this year we had a battle for the team state championship.”
The Patriots secured their sixth consecutive state title last Saturday thanks to Stone and plenty of depth. Stone clocked 15:46.20 on the 5K Oakville Museum and Indian Mounds course in Moulton.
Two other Patriots earned All-State honors for finishing in the top 15. Sophomore Jackson Merrell placed ninth in 16:36, and senior Alvin Finch finished 12th in 16:40 as Homewood edged Cullman 54-69 to claim the title.
“Listen, Cullman about gave me a heart attack,” Homewood coach Lars Porter said. “Cullman is a talented team. They had us on the ropes, but in the end, things went our way.”
The Bearcats had four runners in the top 17 but had a sharp drop-off after that. Meanwhile, Homewood’s Azariah Kipchumba finished 18th in 16:59 and Logan Justice finished 20th in 17:03.
“We’ve got a good group of guys who run hard until the end,” Porter said.
Porter now has won state championships in each of his six seasons as head coach, but this time it was a little sweeter.
“A couple of years we were really talented and we figured things would go our way, but this one was really special because we had to fight for it,” Porter said.
Of course, it helped to have Stone leading the pack.
“Coaching Will Stone never gets old,” Porter said. “He’s an unbelievable kid. He’s talented and he’s focused, and he’s a risk taker. He’s not afraid to get beat.”
For Stone, he just doesn’t want to have any misgivings about the kind of race he runs. He said he would rather go out hard from the outset instead of wishing later he had gone out hard.
“I’d rather take a risk and not regret it,” he said.
Stone led from the start, finishing 17 seconds ahead of Florence’s Grant Brown.
Girls Come up Short
Meanwhile, the Homewood girls came up short in their bid for a second consecutive state title. Fort Payne placed five runners in the top 16 to finish with 51 points and captured the school’s first girls’ AHSAA cross-country championship.
Homewood was second with 65 points and John Carroll Catholic, which won the 2014 and 2015 Class 6A titles, was a distant third with 147 points.
“My hat’s off to Fort Payne,” Porter said. “You never wanted to lose, but if you do, you want it to be to a quality team.
“Fort Payne had a very talented group of girls. Our girls raced their hearts out. We had some with their season best times and some with personal records, but they were just outmatched.”
Florence freshman Mary Claire Ridgeway won the individual championship with a time of 18:20.05. Homewood sophomore Celie Jackson was second, clocking 18:48.12. The Patriots’ Audrey Nabors joined Jackson as an All-State performer, placing 12th in 20:03.