Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Mill Creek's Eric Westog leaps into the arms of head coach Andy Christie along with his other cross country teammates as Christie announces the team won its first ever state championship on Saturday in Carrollton.
CARROLLTON -- Peachtree Ridge's Josh Brickell didn't have to wait long to once again establish himself as an individual champion at the Class AAAAAA Boys State Cross Country Meet.
By contrast, the wait for Mill Creek coach Andy Christie to find out whether his Hawks would take home the team title was agonizingly longer.
"We worked so hard. (The runners) wanted it. I wanted it," Christie said. "But you just don't know until it's all said and done."
And when all was said and done and the results posted, Christie and his Hawks were able to finally erupt in emotional celebration.
Their score of 87 points was enough to claim Mill Creek's first cross-country championship -- and the 13th straight by a Gwinnett County school in the state's highest classification -- by a fairly comfortable 15-point margin over runner-up Marietta on Saturday at Carrollton High School.
"I kept telling them I'd be proud of them no matter what, which is true," Christie said. "But for them to win the program's first title, it's a dream come true for all of us.
"I'm so proud of this team. They battled adversity. They lost a former teammate in August. We dedicated this season to Tajay (Hoppiness), and they ran their hearts out and got the job done (Saturday)."
Inspired by the memory of their late former teammate Hoppiness, who drowned while swimming with friends three months ago, the Hawks got some big performances.
While top runner Eric Westog didn't have his best day, finishing 12th in a time of 16:56.34, others like Tyler Woodrome (sixth-place time of 16:46.44), Sven Hope' (22nd, 17:14.11) and Matt Tippins (26th, 17:18.47) contributed to lift Mill Creek past Marietta, as well as Brookwood, which finished third with 124 points behind Josh Ingalls' 15th-place finish, and Norcross, which placed Arman Rehmann (fourth, 16:37.69), Nick Delguercio (seventh, 16:47.96) and Sam Todd (eighth, 16:49.05) in the top 10 to place fourth with 129 points.
"Eric had a rough race, but Tyler Woodrome stepped up huge," Christie said. "Then we had Matt and Sven. And Jonathan Westog taking 33rd as our fifth man -- they all just collectively got the job done."
So did Brickell, who left no doubt that he would collect his third straight individual state title by breaking away early and cruising home in a time of 15:55.32, which helped Peachtree Ridge place fifth in the team standings with 143 points.
"It's great to be able to be consistent for three years," Brickell said. "It's always kind of tough. Guys get set back by injuries and stuff. It's just taken a lot of concentration and focusing on how my training's going to stay consistent and not get hurt.
"I guess the Carrollton course is a little longer this year and a little slower. I'd run 15:44 the last two years on it. It was a little tougher this year. I kind of wanted to go out hard. It's not something I do too often, but I figured ... I might as well give it a shot and see what happens."
Collins Hill was the only other Gwinnett team to place in the top 10, with the Eagles being led by Daniel Ellis' 21st-place individual showing to finish ninth with 225.