There’s just something special about state-meet week for longtime Commerce cross country coach Mark Hale.
“I start getting excited on Monday morning, and it builds all the way up to the starting gun,” said Hale, who has been at his post for 23 years.
But this trip to Carrollton will carry a little bit more weight for Hale, who announced earlier this year that this will be his final season.
“I will try to appreciate the entire week, but I really hope the runners enjoy the experience, because this is a special event for them,” he said. “I hope they are as excited about it as I am.”
And there’s plenty of reason for excitement in advance of this year’s state meet. The boys look to repeat as state champions after dominating last year’s Class A-Public meet, while Brandon Martin — Class A-Public’s fastest runner — looks to end his career with his second-consecutive individual title.
Hale, whose boys’ team will run Saturday (Nov. 7) at 2 p.m., said repeating as state champions is a tall task given the proverbial target on his team’s back.
“There is a mental strain on being the favorite and carrying that burden the entire season, and our guys have done a good job handling it,” Hale said. “It hasn't been smooth sailing all year, but we seem to be performing well at the end, which is what you want.”
Adding to the difficulty of winning a second-straight title has been the addition of Armuchee this year to Class A-Public due to reclassification.
“We know Armuchee will be a challenge,” Hale said. “They have impressive times, and we have not gone head-to-head with them all year, so we really don't know how we match up, since cross country courses can be so different. It should be an exciting race, and I just hope our guys are ready to be at their best.”
Meanwhile, Commerce’s girls’ team, which will run Saturday (Nov. 7) at 2:45 p.m., aims for a podium finish. The Tigers finished as Class A-Public runners-up last year, but ACE Charter and Armuchee enter the meet ranked as the No. 1 and 2 teams in the state.
“But we feel we can compete with several teams for the third and fourth spots at the state,” Hale said. “It will simply boil down to who runs well that day.”