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They Were First: Pinecrest XC teams brought school first championships
They_Were_First_Pinecrest
Pinecrest Academy won its first team state championships in 2007 as a member of the Georgia Independent Schools Association. Staff Illustration

At a Glance ...

Team: 2007 Pinecrest Paladins

Coach: Andres Montana, Meghan Guilfoil

Result: Both teams captured state championship in Georgia Independent Schools Association Division II.

Quote: “I was always really impressed with his ability to motivate. He was a great basketball coach and always had really a determination about himself that I think a lot of people were inspired by. I know I was.”

— Pinecrest Academy alum Dan Moffit

The Forsyth County News sports staff is revisiting each county school’s first team state championship. This story is on the 2007 Pinecrest Academy cross country teams.

Dan Moffit thought he was signing up for cross-country skiing.

It was an easy mistake to make. Moffit and his family had just moved from snowy Michigan to north Georgia. 

His parents implored him to try out for a sport, and he was excited to learn Pinecrest Academy had a cross country team.

“That’s the cross-country sport that I knew, but Georgia doesn’t have a lot of snow,” Moffit said. “So, I was a little confused.”

But Pinecrest did have cross country running, a boys team coached by Andres Montana and a girls team led by Meghan Guilfoil.

And in 2007, both teams brought Pinecrest its first team state championships in school history. 

In fact, Moffit finished first individually at the 2007 Georgia Independent Schools Association state meet, just three years into his cross-country career.

“I think my personality just ended up being a good fit for running,” Moffit said. “It still is my way of getting out. I can get out and get away and clear my head. I can go where I want to and just kind of be in my own space for a little while.”

Funny enough, Montana didn’t know much about cross country at the time, either. 

Montana was already a highly successful coach at Pinecrest – but in basketball. A few months prior to the cross-country season, Montana had led the Paladins’ boys basketball team to a 22-5 record and a spot in the state championship game.

“I never ran cross country and didn’t have any experience, but I had a really good coach who became a friend of mine, his name is Roy Benson, was connected with Nike and coached at Marist School, which is where I went to high school,” said Montana, who is currently the girls basketball coach at St. Cecilia Academy in Nashville, Tennessee. “He was a legendary head coach – he must have won 10 state championships or something at Marist.

“He was actually the one who helped me look out into the woods and create a cross country course at Pinecrest. When I was there we ran a few meets there, but I think that’s gone by the wayside. I think the course is still there, but I don’t think they run meets there anymore, as far as I know.”

Benson, who wrote several books on cross country, wound up being Montana’s guide to coaching the sport.

“I didn’t know anything about cross country, but this guy wrote a book and I had some pretty decent athletes, so I said, ‘I don’t know anything, so I’m just going to follow this by the book,’” Montana remembered. “It was one of those things where I you could look at the book and say, ‘All right, this kid can run a 5K this fast, so he should be doing his training at this pace.’ So, I would just say, ‘I want you to run this exact time at this pace.’ So, I didn’t know anything about cross country, but I just used kind of my natural coaching skills.”

It worked.

Moffit (1st), Diego Flores (6th), Stephen Frain (7th) all placed inside the top 10 at the state meet, while James Butler (15th) and Santiago Flores (17th) helped the Paladins to a 13-point win over Frederica Academy.

Pinecrest posted a team average of 18:25, and Moffit’s 16:18 was nearly a full minute faster than the second-place finisher.

“Andres had a brilliant way of bringing people together,” Moffit said. “I think he united us in a way that is tough to describe. In workouts, he would always have us run in pairs or threes so that if you were slower, you were fighting to keep up, and if you were faster, then you were pushing the next guy to keep up. So, we’re always pushing and driving together. Then, when you’re racing at the end of the week, and you’re fighting against guys who aren’t on your team, now you’re fighting together.”

Pinecrest’s girls team also had three top-10 finishers in Jana Zuniga (4th), Chelsea Chmura (5th) and Madeline Chiboucas (9th), while Sammy Swygman (11th) and Sofi Munoz (24th) provided the depth the Paladins needed to secure a 20-point win over Heritage School.

All five of Pinecrest’s girls cross country runners posted personal bests that day.

Montana, who ultimately served as athletic director at Pinecrest, helped usher the Paladins into the Georgia High School Association, where the school’s teams compete today.

He also left his mark by creating a motto that some Pinecrest coaches and players still use.

“Our theme, actually, is something that I kind of came up with called ‘our best to Christ,’” Montana said. “So, when we broke the huddle, we’d say, ‘OBTC,’ and that’s something that I came up with. It’s funny, because my high school coach had ‘GATA’ … and I wanted to come up with something that kind of fit our school mission. So, we did ‘our best to Christ,’ which had meaning in every word – even the word ‘our’; it wasn’t ‘mine.’ It was about our team, community and togetherness. Each of those words had an infinite amount of meaning. That was kind of the heart of the culture we tried to create.”

Current Pinecrest girls basketball coach Jonathan Oshinski played for Montana and was a senior on the 2009-10 team that finished 24-5. He still uses the motto with his team.

Both Montana and Moffit were inducted into Pinecrest’s hall of fame in 2018 as part of the school’s second class.

Moffit, who ran at West Georgia and was the team’s top runner as a senior in 2012, said it was special to be inducted into Pinecrest’s hall of fame because it allowed him to share his past with his wife, as well as his family and collegiate teammates.

It was particularly fitting that Moffit entered Pinecrest lore alongside the one who was by his side as a high schooler, motivating him to be a better runner.

“He didn’t necessarily know about the ins and outs of cross country, the sport itself, but it seemed like he was always reading and researching and listening to different types of training and trying different things out,” Moffit said. “I was always really impressed with his ability to motivate. He was a great basketball coach and always had really a determination about himself that I think a lot of people were inspired by. I know I was.”

Other stories in the 'They Were First' series:

2011 Lambert boys lacrosse

1994 South Forsyth softball

1997 North Forsyth softball