When I was hired by the Times in October 2019, one of the first events I had the opportunity to cover was the high school cross country state championship.
Northview’s teams each finished in 24th place that year. And afterwards, I was told over and over, ‘Just wait until next year. There are three eighth graders – one boy and two girls – that will be freshmen. They’re good enough to take these teams to the next level.’
Being the ‘new guy’ in town, I took the messages with a grain of salt simply because I had only been here for a couple of weeks and had no idea who these soon-to-be freshmen were and what their talent level truly was.
The one thing I kept going back to for several days after the state meet was, ‘Man, these kids have some pressure placed on their shoulders based on what everyone thinks they’re going to do right off the bat.’
As history would have it, Gnister Grant, Jcim Grant and Ellia Hayes – the three soon-to-be freshmen back in 2019 – were everything and more. Those people telling me about the trio weren’t lying at all.
Joining forces with the likes of Katie Morrison, Maisie Eldridge and Halle Miller as underclassmen in 2020 and 2021, Hayes and Gnister Grant won back-to-back sectional championships and regional championships, marking the first time that’s happened in program history, as well as clinching a pair of appearances in the state championship meet where the Lady Knights finished in a program-best 14th place both times.
In 2022 and 2023, as upperclassmen and leaders of the team, Hayes and Grant won two more sectional championships and helped lead Northview to the 2022 state championship meet where they finished in 17th place.
On the boys side, Jcim Grant joined a strong group that consisted of Stuart Bennett, Thomas Chapman and Corbin Butts in 2020 with Nolan White entering the mix in 2021. During those two seasons, the Knights won back-to-back sectional titles and one regional championship (2021), while also making a pair of appearances in the state championship meet where they finished in 21st place and a program-best 12th place, respectively.
In 2022 and 2023, as the unequivocal leader of the program, Grant led the program to another sectional championship (2022) and made it to state as an individual each year, making him the first-ever runner in team history to compete in the state finals in four straight seasons, joining his sister, Gnister, and Hayes as Knights that accomplished the feat.
Listed below are the individual accolades for all three:
Gnister Grant – 4-time sectional champion, 2-time individual sectional champion (2020, 2021), 2-time regional champion, 4-time state championship qualifier, 25th place finish in the 2021 state championship meet with a time of 19:22, which was the best in program history at that time.
Ellia Hayes – 4-time sectional champion, individual sectional champion (2023), 2-time regional champion, 4-time state qualifier, 16th place finish in the 2023 state championship with a time of 18:15, which is the best in program history.
Jcim Grant – 3-time sectional champion, regional champion (2021), the first 4-time state qualifier in program history.
Watching the Grant siblings’ and Hayes’ high school cross country careers come to a close last weekend in the state championship race at LaVern Gibson Championship Course brought an end to an era that will be tough to match for anyone else running at Northview in the near- and long-term future. And after interviewing all three – something that’s become almost a guarantee to happen several times throughout the month of October – I was thinking about those people that said, ‘Just wait until next year. There are three eighth graders – one boy and two girls – that will be freshmen. They’re good enough to take these teams to the next level’ back in 2019, before their time at Northview had begun.
Not only did they meet the expectations those in and around the programs had for them, but they exceeded them.