As the GPS cross-country team boarded the bus bound for Hendersonville in the school parking lot on Thursday, Rachael Land from MarComm rushed out to take a photo of the team. But Coach Katie Outlaw had already taken one and posted it to social media. That type of take-charge action surprised no one.
Coach Outlaw started the season with one goal in mind: the state championship. Her ancillary plan was to keep everyone healthy. Assistant Coach Hugh Enicks played a monumental role in implementing precise training plans and track workouts the girls completed all season.
The team accomplished both objectives on Friday when the Bruisers dominated the competition with five runners in the top 15, beating runner-up Father Ryan by an impressive 76-point margin. Baylor took third, one point behind Father Ryan; Harpeth Hall finished fourth two points off Baylor.
Individual accomplishments included senior Jane Eiselstein in fourth followed by four GPS eighth-graders: Frances Bohner in eighth, Mary Wamack in 10th, Gilly Shumate in 11th, and Tessie Braman in 14th. Senior Nicola van der Merwe finished 48th, and junior Emmy Richey placed 67th of 105 finishers.
“These girls didn’t just win the state championship, they dominated the state championship,” said Coach Outlaw. “In the world of cross country meets, beating the next team by 76 points is pretty much unheard of. Our girls quite literally ran away with the state title.”
For comparison, McCallie also took the state title in boys cross country, beating Father Ryan on Friday, but by only 10 points.
“We are extremely proud of our girls and the results they achieved on Friday in Hendersonville,” said Jay Watts, GPS Director of Athletics. “This championship was the culmination of incredible individual efforts that started in July, but this group also came together as a team to push each other to be as good as they could be.”
By placing in the top 15, Jane Eiselstein, Frances Bohner, Mary Wamack, Gilly Shumate and Tessie Braman each earned All-State titles as well. “Besides Jane, all of these girls are eighth-graders, so the future of cross country at GPS is looking pretty bright,” Outlaw said.
Early in the season, Coach Outlaw realized the team had great potential.
“We beat Baylor and Harpeth Hall early on,” she said, “and then had a big race in Huntsville a few weeks ago to see how we stacked up against Father Ryan.” After a victory against Father Ryan, Outlaw knew her team had a good chance at the state title.
But anything can happen on race day, especially with a lingering pandemic and a team member with a recurring hip injury.
“There was a lot of anxiety for me as a coach leading up to race day,” Outlaw said. “I wanted to bubble wrap all of the girls and make them stay home. But they were all very diligent about staying healthy and following guidelines.”
Outlaw credits senior captains Eiselstein and van der Merwe with helping the team stay diligent about wearing masks to prevent COVID exposure and Coach Enicks with training. “He’s been a great asset to the cross-country team this year,” she said. “He brings over a decade of experience to us, and the girls really look up to him.”
Senior Nicola van der Merwe took her role as co-captain to heart and penned an encouraging note to her teammates the night before the state meet:Hey Guys, I want you to know how proud I am of everything we have accomplished so far this year and how thankful I am for this team. You’re such amazing girls, and you’ve put in the effort this season to be the best runners in the state. However, come Friday night, we will either be state champions or we won’t. I truly believe we can win, but it’s going to be a matter of how hard we dig and how much heart we put into this race. This will be a team effort, so when you feel like stopping or slowing down, think about everyone else you’re running for—the girls you’ve been running with these past four months. I am beyond proud of the season we’ve had this year. And remember—all it takes is all you’ve got.