North Atlanta Cross Country Caps Off Record 2020 Season

Eric Curnow
During the Atlanta Classic in Western Douglas County on Oct. 9, senior Andrew Churchill pushes through the first lap of a rainy and muddy meet.

Despite the bind COVID-19 has put the sports world in, the pandemic could not stand in the way of a veritable competitive renaissance for fall-season Warrior sports teams. The Dubs softball team advanced to the state playoffs for the first time, and the volleyball team made it all the way to the “Elite Eight” in its state tournament.

Positive fall-season momentum was also certainly embodied by North Atlanta’s cross country teams. The argument could be made, in fact, that Dub harriers had the program’s best season to date. The recently concluded campaign saw school records fall along with the following notable achievement — both the girls and the boys teams qualified for the state championship meet. That same-year dual qualification was another impressive program first.    

Going into the season, program head Coach Jerid Morisco faced a series of daunting pandemic-related challenges. Six out of the nine invitationals the team initially signed up were cancelled, as well as all of the six weekday APS meets, leaving the Warriors with just three chances to compete instead of the double-digit amount of meets they were expecting. However, through hard work and countless conversations with several meet directors, Morisco was able to piece together a solid nine-meet season. Family complications meant the dedicated coach was not able to stay with the team for the entirety of the season. Typical for the persevering lot that they are, team members forged on. “Dr. Morisco worked hard to give us a season even though he wasn’t able to coach once it started,” said senior Andrew Churchill. “Basically, I was able to have a senior season because of what he did behind the scenes.”

The Warriors didn’t break stride under beloved returning community coach Antonio McKay Jr. and first-year teacher coach Whitney Combs. Over the course of an eight-week stretch of invitationals, team members on both the boys and girls side scored a strong run of podium finishes. For the first time ever, the entire boys varsity squad posted sub-18 minute times, and the highlight among all that excellence was the near-school record time of 16:08 by senior Ethan Curnow. After the season’s final invitational — the Coach Wood Invitational on Oct. 17 in Whitesburg — the boys team had secured a top three ranking in 6A after out-scoring Pope, the squad’s highest division placement ever. On the girl’s side, the team saw marked improvement. During the season, every team member achieved personal records under 25 minutes. The squad was emphatically headlined by freshman Catherine Townsend, a breakout running star who set a school record with an impressive 18:30 in the sport’s standard 5K event. In Townsend’s first year as a Warrior, she also was ranked among the 60 fastest freshman in the nation. The onslaught of personal records and podium finishes set the Running Warriors up beautifully for their end-of-season region meet. 

On a warm Saturday morning on Oct 24, the Dubs faced off against their region foes at Arabia Mountain High School. It was the biggest meet of the season and despite a rough course, the Warriors crushed their competition, as both the boys teams and the girls JV team took first place in their respective races. Both varsity runner Ethan Curnow and JV runner Brent Shannan finished first in their respective races, while Townsend took first by more than a minute in the varsity girls race. In total, 15 of the 24 runners earned a medal for placing top 10. The Warriors’ dominant region performance meant the program decisively punched its ticket for the state meet in Carrollton on Nov. 6. It was the second-consecutive state-berth for the boys, and — for the girls — it was the first-ever state meet appearance in team history. “We killed it at region, and it was epic seeing so many people receive medals,” said senior Randall Semancik. “We were all excited for another chance to continue our season.”

Carrollton is no easy course to run on, as steep hills mixed with higher temperatures with no shade combine for a tough race and slower times. Last Friday’s afternoon’s race was an ugly one, as many teams in the meet were off their mark due to the difficult conditions. Unfortunately, the Dubs were one of those teams, as the boys finished 12th despite their top-five projected finish. The girls finished 17th thanks to a top-10 finish by Townsend, leading the girls to exceed their projected finish of 19th. Despite the fact that state did not go the way the Running Warriors hoped, it did not take away from the record-setting season they enjoyed this fall. The boys will look to rebound at their final meet of the year this Saturday on Nov. 14 in Fayetteville at the Meet of Champions, which they earned a spot in thanks to their first place finish at the region meet. With a season like this, there’s only the inevitable that can be said: “Go Dubs!”