Union Grove runner chases success

McDONOUGH — Connor Dalrymple knew that he was a pretty decent soccer player for both his club team and for Union Grove.

But it wasn’t soccer that piqued his interests and awakened his athletic passion last spring. It was an oval track, not a square shaped field, that caused him to change his view of what kind of athlete he could be.

When he figured out that there was something else other than soccer, leaving the game behind was not a sacrifice for him.

“I was probably a little bit above average as a soccer player,” Dalrymple said. “But I quickly learned that I was a lot better of a track runner than I was at soccer. I figured that I could be a whole lot better of a runner by quitting soccer and focusing on track and cross country.”

And in his first year as one of the Wolverine’s runners, he didn’t disappoint. Dalrymple finished 11th in the two-mile run at the state track meet this past spring. Not bad for someone who didn’t even have the sport — let alone a postseason placement — on his radar screen this time last year.

That state meet was the clincher for him getting to a place where he knew his athletic future lied within cross country. But his confidence began to surge even before then.

“I was feeling pretty good, like I was above average coming out of the Georgia Tech track meet last season,” he said. “I finished higher than I was seeded going in. But it didn’t really hit me until I made it out of region and then sectionals. I was like, ‘Wow. You’re a really good runner.’”

Dalrymple is part of what Union Grove cross country coach Eric Daugherty calls “a very experienced group” of boys runners. In fact, Daugherty went so far as to compare Dalrymple among the best in the county and even the state.

That’s something that the Union Grove senior doesn’t take lightly.

“It makes me feel pretty good, and I’m glad that he’s confident in me,” Dalrymple said. “It makes you want to go out and get it and get more.”

It’s especially high praise, given the fact that Daughery — and everyone else in the area — is aware of who Eagle’s Landing senior Brian Cato is. Cato is the defending Henry County champion and also lauded as one of the top runners in the state.

And yes, Dalrymple also knows exactly who Cato is. In fact, he said that Cato is one of the runners he’s seen in the area that he holds in high regard.

“I have loads of respect for Brian and Tommy Hamlin at ELCA,” he said. “I train with those guys over the summer and they are both good runners. Brian’s been a good runner a lot longer than I’ve been. He’s the returning county champ and all, but I’m looking forward to challenging him for that one.”

Dalrymple admits that he has a bit of a rivalry — albeit a friendly one — with both Hamlin and Cato. But his most difficult opponent is himself, he said.

“Cross country is one of those sports where you have to go through and push through pain, just like the contact sports you play,” he said. “But in a sport like football, the pain is getting put on you from another. In cross country, that pain is something you’re inflicting upon yourself.

“You’re really competing against yourself. It’s truly a mental sport.”

Dalrymple’s first meet will be Saturday August 24 at Fox Hall Farms in Douglas County. It’s a chance for him to get an early start on the lofty goals he’s set for himself.

“When I got to the state championships, it really hit me that I could really win some races next year,” he said. “I think the Fox Halls meet will really show me where I am and where I need to be. I’ll finally get to compare the products of my training to what others have been doing this summer.

“It’ll encourage me to work harder.”