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Cross Country: Denmark growing in third year; boys surge to No. 1 in Class 7A

Ty Brown's reaction to Denmark's reclassification to Class 7A might not be what you expect.

Jumping three spots from Class 4A not only meant the Danes were now in the state's highest classification, but it meant competing in the same region as perennial state title contenders such as Lambert, South Forsyth and West Forsyth.

But Denmark's cross country coach was ready for the change.

“This year, jumping to 7A really was not that intimidating for us, just because where we were last year in the region," Brown said. "We were in a 4A region with Blessed Trinity, Marist and some really tough teams, and we had St. Pius X in our classification, so those three teams right there are the top three teams in the state all-class. So, jumping up to 7A was kind of like, ‘All right, finally we get rid of these private schools and compete against some other public schools.”

Denmark is surging this year. The boys team has won three of five events, placing first at the Cherokee County Classic, Warpath Invitational and Atlanta Classic. 

Meanwhile, Denmark's girls team has a trio of top-six finishes, placing sixth at the Cherokee County Classic, fourth at the North Georgia Championships and third at the Atlanta Classic.

Denmark's boys team is No. 1 in Class 7A, according to the latest MileSplit rankings, while the girls are No. 10.

“Right now, we’re really relying on our top five boys to get us through the season," Brown said. "They’re working hard, they’re highly motivated and they want to try to win a state title. They definitely want to be on the podium. I think the girls are starting to see they’re in striking distance, too, of getting on the podium for the first time.”

Junior Ethan Ashley has finished outside the top three only once this season, placing 11th earlier this month at the Alexander/Asics Invitational against some of the state's top competition. His 15:28 at the meet was his best time all season, faster than his first-place finish at the Cherokee County Classic (16:18).

Ashley, who finished fourth last season at the Class 4A state meet, is one of Denmark's leaders, and has been since the program's inception. 

“I sometimes jokingly call him Coach Ashley. He is very highly motivated," Brown said. "Even his ninth-grade year coming in, I think we ran our first time trial at the end of the summer and he ran an 18:02, and he was just so upset that he didn’t break 18 minutes in his first high school 5K. He’s one of those kids who sits down and looks at Milesplit, he knows all these top guys – of course, he runs with them all in track and all that.”

Ashley was the top junior at the Atlanta Classic last week, finishing behind only Harrison's Sully Shelton.

“So, he’s just one of those that the guys call and ask, you know, ‘What should I eat tonight? How much sleep do we need to get tonight?’ He’s definitely a phenomenal leader on the boys side, and overall just encouraging in general,” Brown said.

Denmark's one-two punch of Ashley and Karthik Kochuparambil helped guide the Danes to a second-place finish at last season's Class 4A state championship meet, but Kochuparambil opted out of the cross country season, leaving a void in the team's top five.

A set of twins in Xavier and Tavian Anderson, as well as Chinmay Dongari, have stepped up for Denmark this season. Hayden Hare provides some critical depth for the Danes, a result of the senior's newfound dedication to the sport.

“He’s really been working hard," Brown said. "He’s been turning up his intensity in training and really focusing on the right things. He’s one of those who’s constantly asking and communicating, ‘What should I eat? How much should I sleep? What are we doing?’ So, he’s really focused on helping the team do well right now. He’s been one of those we’ve had on the team in past years, and he’s always worked really hard, but this year I think we’ve seen just a different level of commitment and focus from him.”

Hare ran an 18:01 last year at the state championships but has finished below the 17-minute threshold in each of the past two races.

Meanwhile, Xavier and Tavian Anderson are models of consistency for the Danes, finishing within seconds of each other in each race. In fact, last month during the Warpath Invitational, they finished at the exact same time — 16:29.

“I’ll tell you what, their freshman year we had several races during the year – I think eight or nine races. They would go back and forth, and at the end of the season I looked at their season average for those races, and it was identical down to a tenth of a second, so it’s like, ‘My goodness,’" Brown said. "They’ve been pushing each other the past three years and they’re still right there. I haven’t done the research, but they might be the fastest twins in the state.”

Morgan Grace Sheffield's 19:11 at the Atlanta Classic was the fastest time for a freshman at the meet, helping Denmark's girls team to a third-place finish behind Marietta and McIntosh. Jessica Perriello finished seventh at the meet and has been a consistent No. 2 for the Danes. 

Similar to the boys team, Denmark's girls must contend with Forsyth County powers such as Lambert an South Forsyth, both ranked ahead of the Danes in the Class 7A poll. South surged to No. 2 following a seventh-place showing at the Alexander/Asics Invitational, while Lambert is No. 4 and was previously the top-ranked team in the poll.

“Forsyth County is just super competitive for cross country," Brown said. "You’ve got some really great programs between Lambert, South – West Forsyth is always up there at the top.”