South of the Border: Girls Team of the Year Bleckley County

'South of the Border HS Girls Team of the Year'

Bleckley County Girls are the 2020 'South of the Border' HS Girls Team of the Year'

If one needs proof of how successful Bleckley County's cross country has been this century is to take a look at all the large royal and gold 4x8 and smaller signs posted around the XC course in the spectator-friendly areas lining the fences. Bleckley's girls' teams have always been competitive at the state meet and have won their region nearly every year in the past decade save one. They have also had individual state champions. Back in 2015, the GHSA decided 2A was going to be an all public school class which opened the floodgates for the Lady Runnin' Royals who dominated from 2016 through 2019. But, Pace Academy and Lovett luckily (for XC anyway), found themselves back into 2A and the bar had been raised higher to repeat as champs for Bleckley County. They responded to this challenge, finishing only eight points out of a runner-up team finish led by underclassmen Trinity Crosby and Johna Bowen and will have the potential to perhaps field their fastest squad in school history in 2021. As usual, they are led by South of the Border' HS Girls Coach of the Year Shelly Cranford, who MileSplit Georgia had a Q&A session with below.

What were your expectations for your squads this season back in early August?

Our expectations were to win state for the 5th year in a row. We knew that was going to be tough to do, but that was our mindset from the start. We came up a little short, but we gave it our best shot, which is all you can ask from any team. We had a lot of fun this year together and we're very thankful that we got to complete the whole season.

How did COVID-19 affect your season and tell us how you dealt with it as a program?

Thankfully, we didn't have any girls who tested positive during the year. We did, however, have several girls who missed a few meets due to being quarantined because of exposure at school or at home. We didn't really miss any of the normal regular season meets that we go to, but our big trip to the Nike Invitational out in Portland, Oregon did get canceled, so we were disappointed that we didn't get to go there.

Did you have any runners that made an impact for your team that exceeded your expectations?

I had 2 and for different reasons. Johna Bowen, a freshman, finished 7th last year at the state middle school meet, and this year, in her 1st year of high school, finished in the top 5 at the state meet. I knew she would do good this year, and she didn't disappoint. She went from running 7:00/mile for 2 miles last year to running 6:40/mile for 5k this year. I attribute that to her year-round hard work and commitment to running and her desire to be the best that she could be this year. At the other end was senior Molly Sims, who came back out to run this year after battling injuries the previous 2 years. Molly was top 10 at state her freshman year but had her sophomore season cut short due to shin problems. She decided not to run last year to give her body a break and to focus on tennis since she is a top tennis player as well. I didn't really think she would come back out this year because history tells me that most kids don't come back out after taking a year off. I was pleasantly surprised when she told me she wanted to run again this year! When schools shut down in March, we started training for cross country, and she slowly built back up little by little and ran this fall like she hadn't missed a step. Even when shin problems popped back up towards the end of the season, she didn't let that deter her as she finished off a great senior season and career as a Runnin' Royal!

Other than your top runner/runners, did you have a runner that was a key leader at practices and races that contributed to your squad's success?

My three seniors who were in my top seven most of the year provided excellent leadership. Molly Sims, Christa Hall, and Juliet Cairney hardly ever missed a practice unless it was virus related. They did everything I asked them to do, never complained, and would always give you their best, at practice and in races. Those type of runners, who lead by example, make the best leaders. Hall and Cairney actually had to swap out with each other at region and state, due to one of them being quarantined at region and the other one being quarantined at state.

Tell us about your squad's day at Carrollton state, the race, and their/your reaction at their place of finish/how close they were to doing even better? 

We ran a great race at state! We finished 3rd behind Pace Academy and Lovett and just got beat by 2 better teams that day. We ran the 3rd fastest team average in our school's history at the state meet, but we came up a little bit short. We were disappointed, but we gave it our all and did still finish as the top public school in Class AA.

What do you foresee is possible in the 2021 XC season for the Bleckley Girls? Are there any middle schoolers that could have an impact?

We have 7 of our top 10 high school girls back for next year, including all-staters Tristen Crosby (individual state runner-up) and Johna Bowen(5th place), and we have several 8th graders coming up next year as well, four of which were on our middle school state runner-up squad. We have much work to do if we want to compete with the top teams in the state next year, but our goal will be to win the state championship in 2021!
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