McKenna Trapheagen and the Woodland High cross country team have become so accustomed to winning the past four years, that podium finishes and state championships can be taken for granted.
However, despite the lofty expectations, the Lady Wildcats managed to exceed their own standard Friday afternoon, and in some ways, even exceeded it.
Trapheagen ended her illustrious career by defending her individual state championship, finishing 40 seconds faster than her state-title winning performance from a year ago and more than 28 seconds faster than her closest competition. Her time of 18:27 is the ninth-fastest time ever at the Carrollton course, which has hosted the state’s best runners for years.
Meanwhile, Woodland as a team placed second, behind only state-power McIntosh, which is the best the Wildcats could have hoped for given how strong McIntosh is this year.
In the last four years, Woodland has now finished with the state title twice and as the runner-up twice.
“We really had a great day,” Woodland girls coach Catherine Bollwerk said. “We knew we were right there with anybody. We knew that McIntosh was ahead, obviously, because of their depth there in the middle. We were a little more spread out than they were and we just didn’t match up well with them. But we felt, everybody else, we could really give them a run for their money if we put in a good show today. And it ended up happening. The girls ran really tough. They did a great job.”
Sophomore Rylee Evans finished on the podium in ninth with a time of 20:03, and longtime lineup cornerstone Carli Clymer placed 16th with a time of 20:44 in her first varsity race of the year after battling injuries.
“That was definitely where [Evans] needs to be and that’s just going to be one step for her,” Bollwerk said. “She’s just going to keep going from here.”
For Trapheagen and Clymer, the moment was bittersweet, as the two seniors were hubs of a class that took Woodland to prominence as a premier running program in the state four years ago.
“[Clymer] was a nice surprise,” Bollwerk said. “She has been really battling with injuries and just being able to stay healthy and be able to run consistently day to day. But she’s just such an asset. She’s so positive, and so it was just really a blessing to have her back today.”
Trapheagen, who committed to run at Georgia Tech last week, said the magnitude of the accomplishments in her career hit her just after crossing the finish line of her final high school race.
“Crossing that finish line and getting to hug those girls, especially the freshmen, it made me a little sad and excited for them and the future, knowing I’m leaving the team in really good hands,” she said. “I know I learned a lot from them this season and I hope I’ve impacted their lives just as much as they’ve impacted me.”
Trapheagen admitted to feeling relief after the race, as she was the prohibitive favorite. She ran the course like the state-championship veteran she is, coming out relatively slow, allowing second-place runner and fellow Georgia Tech commit Mackenzie Walls to hang around for the first mile and a half. Trapheagen then separated and increased her lead all the way to the finish line. By that time, there was not another runner in sight.
“It was a surprise for sure,” she said of her 18:27 time. “I went into it just kind of hoping to be under that 19-minute barrier. I wasn’t expecting it to be such a big drop, but the weather was absolutely perfect today.”
And while Trapheagen felt relieved to have accomplished her goal, for the runners taking their first turn at the Carrollton course, there was nothing but excitement.
Those runners included Danielle Thayer, who placed 33rd with a time of 21:38, and Emma Segars, who came in 44th at 22:14.
“They were very excited, especially the girls who were kind of new, and to kind of feel ‘Hey, we’re a part of this and we did it,’” Bollwerk said of her team’s reaction to its runner-up finish. “They were very happy, a lot of excitement, a lot of cheering.”
While the Woodland girls may have stolen the show, the boys had a strong race of their own.
They placed 12th, the best finish for the team in the last 10 years, led by Patrick Bollwerk in 43rd at 18:13.
Boys coach Rob Forbes said Bollwerk stumbled and fell near the starting line, but worked all the way back to earn the best finish on the team.
Tyler Jones was a close second for Woodland in 47th with a time if 18:19, followed by John Forsyth in 69th at 18:29, Dylan Stermer in 79th at 18:35, and Ian VanOrder in 113th at 18:59.
“They did well. They had a good run,” Forbes said. “The guys who ran there previously had bested their teams from a season ago. We finished five places ahead of where we did last year. We would have liked to finish in the top 10, but I’m still very happy with the outcome.”