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Lambert boys, girls cross country enjoy friendly rivalry
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The improvement of Jonathan Schwind, left, and Hank Grogan has Lambert boys cross country hoping to get back to the state meet. - photo by Brian Paglia

Lambert’s boys and girls cross country teams can’t help but turn everything into a rivalry.

Who has more runners make the team’s Sunday run, boys or girls?

"We’ve beaten the girls the past two months," senior Noah Schaich said.

Who finishes better at races, boys or girls?

"We’re usually better than the boys team," Megan Gianini said.

Who gets more runners out to practice, boys or girls?

"Last year, it was the other way around – the girls had a lot more participation," Hank Grogan said. "This year the guys have stepped it up."

Indeed, so far this season, the Longhorns cross country program has been in the midst of an internal shift in its hierarchy.

A year ago, the girls team was clearly superior. It finished third at region and sixth at the Class 6A meet. It had one of the area’s top runners in Leanne Zimmer, who was runner-up at region and fifth at state and now runs for Ole Miss. The boys, meanwhile, finished seventh at region, failing to qualify for state.

But the difference between the two teams is becoming less clear. After the girls team finished better in Lambert’s first three races of the season, both teams have tied in their past two – they both finished fourth at Lambert’s own River Run meet and eighth at the Wendy’s Invitational in Charlotte, N.C., this past Saturday.

"I guess we’re on track to where we wanted to be," Schaich said. "We’ve seen a lot of improvement."

The boys came into the season expecting to improve after losing just one senior. Schaich has been at the vanguard of the boys’ progress. The team’s top finisher in every race so far this season, he placed second at the Longhorns Invitational; fourth at the 2013 University of Georgia Invite; 13th at the Nike Panther XC Invitational; seventh at the River Run; and 21st at the Wendy’s Invitational.

But more crucial for the boys has been the development of Grogan and Jonathan Schwind. The two have emerged as Lambert’s definitive No. 2 and 3 runners.

To become a complete team, the Longhorns need their No. 4 and 5 runners to improve. This past Saturday at Wendy’s, they were Grogan’s younger brother, Byron, and Christopher Sharp.

"I think we’re in a really good spot," Lambert coach Natalie Leonard said. "I think they’ve got a shot at making it to state."

The girls’ chances at state seemed certain when the season began. Despite losing Zimmer, the Lady Longhorns returned an experienced group in Katherine Aikins, Jamie Angle, Megan Gianini and Madeline Gilleland.

Add in freshman Mae McKenna, who has been the team’s top finisher in three out of five races this season, and Lambert seemed to pick up right where it left off. It was runner-up at the Longhorns Invite, third at Georgia and runner-up at Nike Panther.

But the Lady Longhorns have been getting hints that this season is different. Like when region rival Centennial dominated the Longhorns invite or county and region rivals South Forsyth and West Forsyth finished 1-2 at River Run.

"We’re known as the underdogs now," Gianini said.

It’s a different feeling for the girls team, but one they’re beginning to relish.

"I like it," Gilleland said, "because we want to prove everyone wrong. It gives us more motivation."

Added Angle: "It makes us push each other and push ourselves harder."

And if that’s not enough motivation, there’s always the boys quickly gaining on them.

"We don’t want the boys doing better than us at races, because we’ll hear about it – a lot," Gianini said. "They’ll brag about it."