After countless miles of running, the hours of preparation, the conditioning in the weight room, and a region title along the way, the season came down to one day for the Augusta Christian School girls cross country team.
It was Oct. 17 at Stratford Academy in Macon. The Lady Lions were ready to run to glory last weekend in the Georgia Independent Schools Association Class AAA championship meet.
Augusta Christian's goals were in reach. The hard work wasn't quite over, but the Lady Lions weren't scared of tackling the rugged 3.1-mile course.
"When we went out for the race, there was a calmness," AC coach Beth Harden said. "We truly felt in our hearts that we had done everything to prepare for this meet."
hen the scores were announced, the calmness ended and the Lady Lions did a lot of rejoicing.
Augusta Christian edged First Presbyterian Day School by four points to win the GISA Class AAA championship. AC beat FPD 92-96, while Augusta Preparatory Day School was a distant third, with 130 points.
The Augusta Christian girls cross country team won the state title. Members of the team are Sarah Beth McKinney (front, from left) Sarah Madebach, Annie Kim, Rebekah Madebach, Helen Cave and Coach Beth Harden; Rebecca Surles (back, from left) Whitney Waters and Tracey Mullen.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
"Seeing the girls lifting the trophy up to the Lord, for all he has done for us, was a blessing,'' Harden said.
Giving thanks to the Creator isn't just lip service for the Lady Lions. Through the trying times, when injury problems hampered Annie Kim, Sarah Beth McKinney and Larrie Reese, Augusta Christian found strength in Scripture.
And when the going got tough at the state meet, AC's runners kept the faith.
The Madebach twins, Rebekah and Sarah, already had sealed the top two spots in the individual race, but Kim, Helen Cave and McKinney were still running for their lives.
"It's just so tiring on your legs. You want to give up, but you can't. You know you have to fight to win," McKinney said. "Annie, Helen and I were all running together, and Helen was quoting Scripture from Isaiah: 'You will run and not grow weary ...' It just felt like the Lord was giving us strength."
Rebekah Madebach won the individual state title with a time of 19:42, while Sarah Madebach, who had won state in cross country the past two seasons, settled for second this year with a time of 20:15.
Even with the Madebachs blazing the way, the team race was still too close to call. AC had been through this before the Lady Lions lost the state title by seven points last year to Augusta Prep.
Last weekend's result came down to the runners jockeying for position in the middle of the pack.
"I knew right at the midpoint of the race that Annie Kim, Sarah Beth McKinney, Helen Cave and Rebecca Surles were going to make a huge difference for the team," Harden said. "They came through just exactly where we needed them."
Kim placed 27th (24:16), McKinney was 30th (24:20) and Cave finished 32nd (24:22) to round out Augusta Christian's counting scores. Surles came in 48th (25:51) and Whitney Waters crossed the finish line in 64th place (26:49) for the Lady Lions.
"I knew we could do it, but I sort of had that doubt," McKinney said. "I've never won state in anything before, and now I get a championship ring. It's exciting."
Augusta Christian's seniors know the feeling. Sarah and Rebekah Madebach, along with Kim, were freshman on the cross country team in 2000 when AC claimed the GISA title, which was the first state championship in school history for any Lady Lions team.
The second time around was just as sweet.
"We put in a lot of work, a lot of hard practices, but it paid off in the end," Kim said. "It was well worth it. I couldn't have asked for a better coach, and it was awesome to end my senior season with a championship."
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