All that Severna Park’s Garrison Clark wanted to do this year was lead his team to glory on every possible stage. The junior won the county and region championships while finishing second in the 4A state meet, helping the Falcons win all three meets as a team.
At the Nike Southeast Regional Cross Country championships in Cary, North Carolina, last week, Clark willed himself to the front of the race and held on to finish seventh out of a contingent of high caliber runners from the states of Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.
Though the Severna Park club did not qualify for the National meet in Portland, Oregon, finishing seventh as a group, the top two teams and the top five individuals not on a qualifying team earn berths at the Nike National Championship race in Portland, Oregon on Saturday. Clark’s seventh-place finish made him the fourth individual qualifier for the national meet, a tremendous feat for the Capital Gazette Communications runner of the year.
“Through 2K I was a little bit worried he went out too fast,” Severna Park coach Josh Alcombright said. “But I saw him come by at two miles and I was like, ‘this dude might do it.’ He looked comfortable, he looked relaxed. He was sitting in fourth place and had a nice little gap on the next pack that was coming through. He was trying to do the best that he could for his teammates. He put himself at the beginning and just put himself in the front of the race because he wanted to get a low spot for his team. He just hung on.”
According to Clark, the day was all about the team finish.
“I guess I kind of just took the first mile with everybody and went from there and tried to stick with the top guys,” Clark said. “My team and I were trying to see if we were going to be able to get anywhere close to qualifying, maybe third or fourth. That didn’t really happen but it was an OK day for us. But I just wanted to give my team the best that I had for the day — that was my race plan.”
Clark, who finished in 15:12.4, was the top finisher from the state of Maryland and the third best junior in the race. He also broke the school record on the course, previously set by Ryan Forsyth, a state champion in his own right and now a junior on the cross country team at the University of Colorado.
In the national championship race Saturday in Oregon, Clark finished in 54th place, just clearing 16 minutes in 15:59.5.
Most importantly, he gained invaluable experience which he hopes can help him be an even better leader for his team next season as the Falcons make another run at state and possibly national glory.
“I am super proud to represent my teammates,” Clark said. “I’d like to take the experience from this year, give it back to my teammates and show them how it went and see if that can get us all motivated for next year.”