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Morrow looks to continue to build cross-country profile

Morrow coach Anthony McKissic looks for his team to continue to build on last year’s success as the Mustangs enter a new region. (Staff Photo: Derrick Mahone)

Morrow coach Anthony McKissic looks for his team to continue to build on last year’s success as the Mustangs enter a new region. (Staff Photo: Derrick Mahone)

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Junior Cameron Pack will be counted on to help lead the Morrow boy’s cross-country team this season. (Staff Photo: Derrick Mahone)

MORROW – The Morrow boy’s cross-country team narrowly missed out on being one of the 25 best teams in Class AAAAAA a year ago.

They finished 26th at the state meet, but this year they have their sights set on an even higher finish as they have moved into Class AAAAA after the bi-annual GHSA reclassification.

However, that doesn’t mean they don’t have to compete at an elite level.

“The fastest guys in every classification usually average about the same times,” said Morrow’s leading runner Austin Gray. “The only thing is 6A probably has a lot more people running fast times than any other classification.”

Speaking of his former and current classifications, Morrow coach Anthony McKissic added, “you need to run 16 and 17 [minutes] across the board just to get notice.”

McKissic thinks he has a team worth paying attention to despite losing some of his core runners to graduation.

He said this year’s team could be be even better this season.

“I think that this year’s team would dominate last year’s team,” he said. “We lost Kelcey Price and Lance Pappilion, but replaced them with two kids that are good also.”

The two new names to the fold are Xavier Clayton and Jaquonn Jones. They join the returners Gray, Courtland White, and Cameron Pack to help give the Mustangs a solid cast of runners.

Gray finished fourth at region last year and 90th at state. He has a personal-record time of 16 minutes, 43 seconds and wants to dip below the 16-minute mark.

With his sights set on that goal, he has found a sense of togetherness with his fellow runners.

“I started training a lot more with my teammates and we just been putting in the miles,” he said.

Clayton agrees with the team bonding and says it is all for a reason.

“We practice Monday through Friday and try to make ourselves better than we were the year before,” he said.

This is Clayton’s first season running cross-country, but he ran the 1,600, 800, and 400 meters in track and field.

“Cross country is more work,” he said of his new sport. “The longer you run, you have to have more of a mindset to keep going.”

White and Pack have learned the persistence needed to compete in cross country. They both have been running since the seventh-grade.

White, a senior, finished 15th at region and 128th at state a year ago. He is also optimistic about the upcoming season. “Everybody’s been dropping times,” he said. “Our practices and our training have been improved, so I think we can really do a lot better than what we did last year.”

Pack is a junior who held his own as sophomore. He believes going through last year will pay dividends.

“Last year was a learning experience for me and my team,” Pack said. ” I feel this year we’re going to make a big jump. I feel that we can really compete on a region level, perhaps be on the podium at the state level.”

In addition to their new classification, Morrow will also compete in a new region, which includes McIntosh and Starr’s Mill. McKissic also noted that Union Grove and Ola in Henry County will help make the region very competitive.

The Mustangs also want to repeat as county champions.

“We bring it up pretty often,” White said. “During our runs we’ll joke about if another team came and ran with us, what would happen. We just don’t want to lose the goal of winning county again because I don’t think that is something that’s really revered in Clayton County.”

Raising the profile of cross country in the county is something McKissic wants his program, which has around 40 runners between the boys and girls, to do.

“We’re trying to bring a cross country name to Clayton County where we’ve been known for basketball and maybe football down in Lovejoy,” he said. “We want to let them know that there are some runners here and we run distance.”