The women’s varsity cross-country team from Cross Schools in Bluffton won the SCISA Class 1A State Meet held Nov. 5 in Columbia.

For nearly 20 years, the sports program at Cross Schools has been defined by potential. The Bluffton private Christian school has fielded teams and preached patience. 

But as the school has incrementally built its student body, adding one grade each year, parents like Suzie Hollings have watched star athletes develop at Cross, only to achieve titles at other area high schools.

“I’ve been a parent here for 12 years, a teacher and now a sports leader,” said Hollings, in her first year as athletic director at Cross. “We knew what we were building, but we had to watch these amazing kids go elsewhere to help hang title banners in the gym or in the school halls.”

That all changed Nov. 5, as the women’s cross-country team won the school’s first-ever varsity level state title, earning the honors at the SCISA Class 1A State Meet in Columbia.

Cross hasn’t graduated its first senior class yet, and the track program has been running varsity races for only three years. And now, the women have a title and the men’s team finished as state runners-up.

The women’s team placed six runners – none of whom has reached 10th grade – in the top eight finishers. Ninth grader Elizabeth von Maur took third place, followed by eighth grader Aria Mattis (fourth),  seventh grader Gretchen Holmes (fifth), freshman Maggie Drury (sixth) and middle schoolers Reese Monteiro (seventh) and India Collins (eighth).

“These girls, they’re competing against 11th and 12th graders and they just completely rocked it,” Hollings said. “There were a lot of competitors in awe. It was awesome to see these girls make history for our program.”

The men’s team was led by seventh grader Moss Leroux, who took fifth place for the Stingrays. Shiloh Hunter-Daniel (8th place), Chase McDaniel (10th place), and Logan Greene (11th place) are all middle school students at Cross. 

“It’s going to take a few years for these kids to truly understand the milestone they achieved, the history they were part of,” said Hollings, who praised coaches Wendy Cummings and Dr. Nancy Ungvarsky for their unwavering leadership. “We know what we’ve been building here, but this is a moment where we have really turned a corner.”

The school competed in SCISA for the first time just last year, fielding mostly JV teams and having only a soccer field on its home campus that doubled as a middle school football field. But it has been a season of big happenings for the school.

The football team competed in SCISA for the first time, a 12-player roster competing against teams at least three times its size – in numbers, but often times, in physical stature. Yet the Stingrays placed two players on the All-Region team, with linebacker Jose David Garcia and safety Rivers Palmer taking home the honors.

The women’s volleyball team has exploded in popularity, as coach Bill Crumrie has built a program with a varsity, JV and an A and B squad at the middle school level. The varsity team went 8-2 this fall, playing in a region mostly against Class 2A team since not enough area 1A teams fielded a program. One of their losses en route to the state quarterfinals was to Patrick Henry, the eventual Class 2A state champion.

Three of the school’s elder athletes, juniors Bethany Carlson, Emma McCollum and Hana Nelson, were all named to the Class 1A All-Region team, and Crumrie was named Co-Coach of the Year.

Mattis, von Maur, Drury and seventh grader Gretchen Holmes earned women’s cross-country All-Region honors, while twins Max and Moss Leroux were named to the men’s cross-country All-Region team.

“I’m so happy for these kids, for their families and for all the supporters of our programs,” Hollings said. “We have grown such leaps and bounds in such a short time. To see these teams mature, to finally tell families they can stay at Cross to earn varsity titles, it’s an exciting time for all of us.”

This winter, the boys and girls basketball programs will field varsity teams for the first time. And the Stingrays sporting clays team will compete on the JV level for the first time after winning a middle school state title last season. The team is led by Trent Luechtefeld, the state’s top shooter in 2021, scoring 98 out of 100 in the state middle school championship.

“These coaches, these kids, they’re all helping to build a legacy here. Our ninth-grade enrollment is nearly reaching capacity,” Hollings said. “These families, they’re all part of history. The first to hang banners on our walls, the first to wear varsity uniforms. As a parent who has been here for so long, it is just incredible to see. And to know the true talent we have, the potential ahead of us, we’re just all so proud.”

Hollings said the school still has 76 acres of land to build on, so the hope is to build a baseball and softball complex, tennis courts, and a football field with a regulation track over the next decade.

But for now, seeing the kids raise their first varsity state title is an epic moment in time.

“We have been the best-kept athletic secret around for some time now, but I think the word’s getting out that Cross is here to compete,” Hollings said. “I think it’s going to truly sink in when we have our first senior class next year, to see just how far we’ve come.”

Tim Wood is a veteran journalist based in Bluffton.