Diamond in the rough Week 3

Emma Rice is one of our girls winners this week. Photo by Marc Logan.

From In the Rough to On the Podium: Diamonds in the Rough Week 3

Cross country is now here in full force in Georgia. This past week, there were 16 high school-level races in Georgia alone, plus numerous middle school and out-of-state competitions where Georgia runners competed. It seems like every week that passes brings the fastest times yet; at the AT&T Starr's Mill Panter XC Meet, for example, running a 16:00 5k (for men) and 19:30 (for women) would only be good enough for 10th place! This week, I'd like to highlight some runners who, based on their early season performances, have officially graduated from overlooked performances to serious contenders. There were many worthy performances run during the first week of September, but these performances in particular are not flukes, and each of the runners or teams honored this week should be taken very seriously by their competition! With that out of the way, here's the third edition of Diamonds in the Rough.

Boys Winners: 

Noah Kilgore, Strong Rock (1A Pri): 17:31 at Viking Invitational, 1st, 17:01 at Strong Rock Patriot, 1st 

The first runner on the list this week wasn't exactly unknown heading into the season, as he achieved a 5th place finish at the 1A Private state meet last year. However, Kilgore started off the season in quiet fashion at his first two meets. He seems to be hitting his stride now, though. This past week, the senior from Strong Rock ran a 17:31 to win the Viking Invitational by over a minute, and then three days later followed that up with an even more impressive race, winning at his home XC course by 100 seconds with a 17:01 finishing time. 

Aaron Retana, Chestatee (4A): 16:53 at NOHS Home Meet, 1st 

Aaron Retana must have seriously put in some good training over the offseason in a bid to help Chestatee repeat their state championship title from last year. He was just the 6th man on that impressive War Eagles squad at state last year, but this year he's pushed up far enough to be the first finisher on the team at the North Oconee home meet. With that performance, he ran a lifetime best time of 16:53 to win the meet over some serious competition. 

Sequoyah High Varsity (6A): 17:42 team average at Berry Clara Bowl, 3rd 

Sequoyah finished 13th at the 6A state meet last year, primarily thanks to a 36-second 1-5 split that was second in the state (behind only Cambridge's legendary 5-second 1-5 split). Well, it appears that they have found their low sticks, while their depth remains as good as ever. A third-place finish at the Berry Clara Bowl Invitational saw the team beat Randolph School, an Alabama squad that finished 6th in their 6A classification last year while returning their entire top 6. Josh Helms and Clay Tucker led the way for the Indians with top-10 performances as Sequoyah was only bested by 7A podium contenders Lambert and Walton.

Boys Honorable Mention: 

Kade Morgan, Commerce (1A Pub): 19:32 at NOHS Home Meet, 51st 

Zach Mickler, Model (2A): 18:53 at Berry Clara Bowl, 56th 

Stephen Clark, West Hall (3A): 17:09 at NOHS Home Meet, 6th 

Daniel Blaich, Decatur (5A): 16:20 at AT&T Starr's Mill Panther XC Meet, 14th 

Ethan Archibald, Dunwoody (7A): 16:56 at Berry Clara Bowl Invitational, 4th 

Girls Winners:

Lillie Mealor, First Presbyterian Day (1A Pri): 21:35 at Viking Invitational, 1st

Mealor was very close to winning this award in last week's edition with her victory at the Walker Bethune Invitational. All she did for a follow-up was win another race, this one by 59 seconds at the Viking Invitational at her home course, in a blazing time of 21:35 that was only 7 seconds off of her personal best. This senior looks to be out to show that she will be a top 5 contender at the 1A state meet this November after a track season where she did just that in the 800m and 3200m distances.

Emma Rice, Veterans (5A): 19:22 at AT&T Starr's Mill Panther XC Meet, 7th 

It doesn't appear that Emma Rice ran XC at all as a freshman, but she certainly has made up for lost time as a sophomore. This Veterans High athlete began her 2021 campaign by winning two smaller meets at Midstate and Warhawk, then faced some stellar competition at Starr's Mill. She certainly rose to the occasion with a 7th-place finish of 19:22, which was a personal best by a minute! Even more impressive? Three of the runners in front of her were from out of state, so she was the 4th-place Georgia runner. She certainly has the speed to surprise some of the other excellent 5A runners from Blessed Trinity or St. Pius when she races against them later this season!

Heidi and Clara Heppner, North Atlanta (6A): 19:22 and 19:53 at Run at the Rock, 2nd and 4th 

North Atlanta had an incredible showing at the Run at the Rock Invitational, nearly scoring a sweep while only totaling 17 points against several other 6A and 7A schools. However, the surprise of the meet was Heidi and Clara Heppner, both new to North Atlanta after transferring from GAPPS school Johnson Ferry Christian and running an abbreviated XC schedule last season. They certainly seemed to have little trouble adjusting to GHSA competition as they both ran under 20:00 for 2nd and 4th respectively. Heidi in particular broke her personal best time by over 30 seconds! The Warriors could be a force to be reckoned with this fall with the addition of these two joining Catherine Townsend and Co.

Girls Honorable Mention: 

Jane Monachello, Lake Oconee Academy (1A Pub): 23:45 at Morgan County Home Meet #1, 2nd 

Brianna Dalton, Jasper County (2A): 24:17 at Morgan County Home Meet #1, 5th

Savannah Arts Varsity (3A): 21:56 team average at Frazier-Hite Invitational, 1st 

Liv Bledsoe, North Oconee (4A): 21:25 at NOHS Home Meet, 6th 

Samantha McGarity, Harrison (7A): 18:39 at AT&T Starr's Mill Panther XC Meet, 2nd