Sam Rich, seen here at the York County Championship, has a chance to win a 4A state title to be the first state champion for Catawba Ridge.

Fast runners like Sam Rich are able to close ground on things rather quickly. A state title is something that he is sprinting towards now.

The Catawba Ridge junior runner is closing in on a potential 4A state cross-country individual championship and the Copperheads are closing in on the school’s first state champion in any sport as well with Rich. Both Rich and Catawba Ridge will be chasing that title Thursday at the Sandhills Research Center in Columbia.

Rich moved onto the running scene in Fort Mill it seems like overnight. Coming from Carrollton High School in the Augusta, Ga. area, Rich finished second in the boys’ 6A state cross-country last year as a sophomore.  Rich and his family moved to the area as his father, Matthew Rich, became the new pastor at Unity Presbyterian Church.

Catawba Ridge cross country head coach David Helms said that Rich had told him he had three goals when he got to South Carolina – run a sub-15-minute race, win state and get his team to state. So far, he has done nearly all three.

And for Helms, Rich reminds him of another great Fort Mill runner in Mark Blackmon, who won state cross-country titles in 2007 through 2009 for Fort Mill High. But Helms was quick to point out that Helms has an advantage over Blackmon.

“He is the best runner I have coached,” Helms said. “Mark Blackmon just had raw ability. Sam has a ton of work ethic.”

That work ethic has allowed Rich to accomplish something that has only been done seven times in the state since 2000 – run a race under 15-minutes. Rich ran a personal best 14:55 at the Asicis Invitational in early October. That race was the seventh fastest race in state history and the time is currently ranked 12th in the nation for the 2020 cross country season. Rich himself is the top ranked male runner in 4A this season.  His speed is something he said comes natural to him.

“The work we have been doing and the workouts, it has helped me focus on improving it,” he said. “I always felt like I have had a strong kick at the end and I can hold pace for a while. I am happy to put it all together.”

Rich has twice broken a course record at Northwestern this season with a 15:35 in the Trojan Invitational and then a 15:32 in the York County Championship.

At the age of 5, Rich entered his first 5K thinking it would be fun. He started running track and cross-country competitively in sixth grade.

“I love running because it’s a team sport, but a lot of it is on yourself,” he said. “You control whether you do good or bad. All that hard work feels really good. I just love the sport.”

As Rich and Catawba Ridge get ready for the 4A state meet Nov. 5, he feels confident he can come away with a state title.

“My two main goals were to win state and break 15,” he said. “I think I have a good shot at it. There is some good competition, but I think I can do it.”

Rich is hoping to set another personal record at the state meet, but isn’t setting his mind on a certain time.

“My main goal is to break 15 and get as low as possible,” he said.

Rich said he has felt welcomed since he came from Georgia and has adapted well since arriving. He still has his senior year next year and plans on running at the next level after he graduates. Rich is getting noticed by colleges, but is playing it close to the chest about where he wants to go.

“I want to run Division I,” he said. “I have had a couple schools talk to me from the Power 5 (conferences), but no offers yet.”

Rich will be running both the mile and two-mile events for Catawba Ridge in the spring during track season.

Mac Banks:, @fortprep