The Liberty boys focused on a single goal throughout the summer and during the cross country season — repeating as state champions.
Nick Tilson made sure the Lions never forgot what they wanted.
Tilson was a captain as well as the team's top runner, but also proved a driving force in ways away from courses. The senior grew into the kind of leader that co-coach Dan Jones praised and said became a big reason why Liberty easily captured that second consecutive Class 2A championship.
Tilson himself finished third in the state after winning county and 2A West Region meet championships. His performances and leadership helped the Lions find success, and earned him Times Runner of the Year honors.
"Nick is just an incredibly smart mental runner," Jones said. "He understands the mental side of the sport. He brought in the younger guys and let them know [he was] trying to help them understand what's important."
Tilson and co-captain Andrew Miner pushed everyone throughout the summer. Tilson, a senior who also plays basketball in the winter and said he's not sure which sport he'll do in college or where he'll go, drove teammates so hard because of his optimism.
"I knew we were returning pretty much the core group of our varsity team," Tilson said. "I had high hopes. I knew we would be good but I wasn't sure how good."
Tilson said that he and Miner organized regular runs over the summer to keep the team in good shape. They helped form runs six days a week throughout the summer — and even opened it up to incoming freshmen so they could get a good look at the sport — from the last week in June until practice began in mid-August.
The message was clear: hard work will give the best chance to achieve the goal. But Tilson also said they wanted the entire program to understand that, even the JV runners.
In fact, the younger runners should benefit from this as 16 of the team's 47 athletes were freshmen. Jones said good in-house leadership was needed on this team.
"The way we coach our program, it's absolutely critical," Jones said. "Coaches pick the guys who they think are going to be the best leaders [toward] a season-long goal, and it's something that Nick learned last year as he was under the tutelage of another person [Chad Sussman]."
Tilson said his confidence in this year's team really took off after the Brunswick Invitational on Sept. 3. The Lions rolled to a 31-point victory over Northwest in a tough 24-team field.
Tilson led Liberty with his fourth-place finish, Daniel Saxon took sixth place while John Lemaster, who went on to have a break-out season, ended up eighth, two spots ahead of Miner. Freshman Jake Beaumier finished 20th.
It set the tone for the season.
"It just felt like everything clicked," Tilson said. "Everything just came together. At that point, I realized we could go for a second one. I realized it could be a great season."
And it turned out to be just that. The Lions constantly ran well and really picked things up in the postseason races.
Liberty beat runner-up Century in the county, region, and state meets. The Lions won the county meet by 26 points, the region meet by 10, and held a 43-point margin of victory over the Knights in the state title run on the difficult Hereford course.
Tilson led the way in each race as the Lions put three in the top 10 in the state meet and four there in the first two postseason runs. Liberty simply had too much talent, and got help from younger runners like Beaumier, Lemaster (junior) and Connor Stewart (freshman).
Tilson understands the importance of learning as a younger runner since he did plenty of that. He ran on the varsity for four years, taking 12th in the county meet as a freshman, second as a sophomore and first the last two years.
"He's progressed gorgeously for four years," Jones said.
Tilson said he also enjoyed his leadership role, especially helping the younger runners learn their way. The senior felt very satisfied when the Lions won the state title at Hereford.
After all, they finally achieved that goal.
"Being a captain that day and having it be my last cross country race, seeing the inexperienced guys step up was an amazing feeling," Tilson said. "It was a great moment."
All-County Boys Cross Country
Name School Year
Devon Caples Winters Mill Senior
Zachary Fenton Century Sophomore
Matt Huber Century Sophomore
John Lemaster Liberty Junior
Andrew Miner Liberty Senior
Daniel Saxon Liberty Sophomore
Jacob Spera Century Junior
Latest Carroll County High School Sports
Century: Theo Johnson, Sean Renehan. Liberty: Connor Stewart. South Carroll: Jason Cave, Chris Scalzi. Westminster: Brandon Arbaugh, Noah Griffin. Winters Mill: Sean Gore.