The Smiths Station boys and girls cross country teams battled some inexperience and a little bad luck to both finish among the top 10 at their respective state competitions in 2013. Led by Katelynn Burns, the girls finished 10th, while the boys took sixth.
Neither, perhaps, is as high as expectations at Smiths Station warrant, but considering the factors that posed challenges this season, they were two more incredibly successful seasons.
Perhaps the only more impressive season in the Bi-City area, this for an individual, was Shaw runner Hakeem Mustafaa’s second-place finish at the Georgia state competition.
For their efforts, Burns and Mustafaa have been named the girls and boys All-Bi-City cross country runners of the year, respectively, while Smiths Station coaches Ron Peters (boys) and Cassidy Stecenko (girls) earned the nods for coaches of the year.
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Boys runner of the year: Hakeem Mustafaa, Shaw
Mustafaa’s times were blazing:
A personal best 15:36.92 to win first at the region meet; a 16:27.91 for second place at state.
Of course, it’s nothing new for Mustafaa, who was named the 2012 runner of the year as a sophomore.
This year’s selection only adds to the long list of accolades, and he’s still got another season left to extend it further.
That, of course, is easier said than done.
“I can say, really, that out of all my three years running cross country, this year was probably the hardest and longest season,” he said.
“Mainly because I put in so much more work and had to keep my head and mindset on what I was trying to do. You have to exceed each year what you did the year before.”
Mustafaa said it was a rigorous daily process [--] 4-6 miles in the morning, 8-10 during the afternoon [--] that got him to where he is.
Girls runner of the year: Katelynn Burns, Smiths Station
Burns is a relatively new runner. Last season, it was a process of learning what it took to succeed at a high level.
This year, her coach Cassidy Stecenko said she took the next step, pushing herself over the summer and seeing constant results throughout the season.
Burns recorded personal bests in each successive race throughout the season, continuously building on her season. She finished with a best of 20:32, which came at state (50th place), earned third at sectionals and notched four top 10 performances.
“She started really training and trying to put in what it takes,” Stecenko said. “She put in a lot of mileage, and then during the season improved every time out. I think adding mileage is what helped her.”
Coaches of the year: Ron Peters and Cassidy Stecenko, Smiths Station
The Panthers success in cross country is likely taken for granted by some. Expectations are a high finish at the state competition for both clubs every season.
This year was no different, and neither team disappointed as the boys took sixth and the girls 10th. The path to get to that level, however, was filled with new challenges that make their high finishes that much more impressive.
For the boys, it was a host of late-season injuries that kept them less than 100 percent at the state race. For the girls, it was breaking in very young runners, including a number of seventh and eighth graders.
“They fought tough,” Peters said of his boys. “We just had a little bad luck. You have to have luck to win a championship, and this year we didn’t have it. Then again, we had six who had never competed at state and we still finished sixth. That’s a lot of pressure, and they did a good job.”
“I think they did well,” Stecenko said of her girls. “I was pleased with this young group that they competed at a high level. They PR-ed at every race, and as a coach that’s what you want to see. I knew we weren’t going to be top 3 at state, but we wanted to place high at every race we went to, and we did.”