Unsung Heroes Week 7: Contenders Emerge
The calendar on the wall seems to move faster every month, and it shows that we are now solidly into October, which means that there is exactly one month until the GHSA state cross country meet on November 6. This past weekend, an incredible 80+ schools toed the line at the Alexander/Asics Invitational. On the boys' side, we had a battle between Ethan Ashley and Edward Blaha that literally went down to the last step, and a battle between Decatur and Mill Creek for the team championship that easily could have swung either way. It wasn't quite as dramatic in the girls' championship race, but we still saw an amazing 57 girls break the 20-minute barrier and the Pace girls stamp themselves as potentially the team to beat in the entire state. However, this week's winners include runners and teams that didn't run in the championship race at Asics, but established themselves as contenders nonetheless by finishing in the top 3 of their respective races. Every year at the state meet, there are a few runners who come in having raced in smaller races and proceed to prove that they can hang in there with the favorites as well. This week, we'll see who some of those runners might be. Here are the Unsung Heroes for week 7!
As always, "Unsung Heroes" (formerly "Diamonds in the Rough") recognizes some great individual or team performances from this past week across the state of Georgia that might have flown under the radar or gone underappreciated. One "winner" or "honorable mention" is selected from each of the 8 GHSA classifications for both boys and girls. Enjoy!
Clotfelter has improved his time in every meet that he has run this season, from a 19:02 down to a 17:29. This includes a solid 18:41 at the state meet course. This week, at the Heard County meet, the Bremen senior matched his lifetime best with a 17:29 for a 2nd-place finish, leading the Braves to victory over host Heard County and 4A school Central.
Chandler had about the best week of running it is possible to have, racing against 160 competitors across two meets and only losing to one of them by two seconds. The runner who bested him at the Heritage 5-Star Stride NGXCL was LaFayette standout Tucker Henderson. At the LaFayette Rambler meet, the Generals senior avenged his loss to Henderson and bested the field by 24 seconds, setting a lifetime best in the process.
Laird's personal best 5K coming into the weekend was 17:35, and his personal best leaving the weekend was 16:38. The Winder-Barrow course wasn't a cakewalk, either. He held off strong field full of runners from 6A and 7A schools, with the closest challenger being his teammate Christopher Rubio. In what should be a very competitive 6A state meet, Laird could be a top-20 runner after finishing 54th last year.
Boys Honorable Mention
Eli Hutchins, Trion (1A Public): 18:31 at LaFayette Rambler XC Meet, 4th AND 17:59 at Rome All Area Championships, 10th
Walker Bailey, Tallulah Falls (1A Private): 17:44 at Alexander/Asics Invitational, 9th in 1A-3A race
Diego Martinez, Hart County (3A): 16:42 at 3rd Annual Bulldog Early & NEGIAA Region Championship, 2nd
Terry Mitchner, Wayne County (5A): 17:21 at Wayne County Home Meet #2, 2nd
Cory Chambers, Milton (7A): 16:25 at Wendy's Invitational, 13th in invitational race
Like most 1A Public runners, it is easy for Kimple to fly under the radar. It's difficult to ignore her performance from this past weekend at the Rome All Area Championships. A week after winning the Varsity Girls B race at Wingfoot, Kimple went toe-to-toe with the best runners in the Rome area and came out with a personal best of 19:39, finishing just ahead of teammate and last year's 1A Public champion Shelby Green. The battle between Kimple and Green will be fun to watch play out over the rest of the season.
As the only team honored among the winners this week, the Mary Persons girls dominated the 1A-3A race at Asics. Although the Bulldogs don't boast a true low stick, their split between the #1 and #6 runners was only 67 seconds. Senior Maradeth Leverett led the way for Mary Persons as they established themselves as a podium contender for the 3A state meet this year.
Merritt is the embodiment of a true Unsung Hero. After a strong sophomore campaign in which she never finished lower than 9th in any race before the 5A state meet, Merritt set personal bests of 5:31 (1600m) and 11:50 (3200m) in the spring before coming back to XC stronger than ever. Although she has run in some smaller races this year, Merritt has lowered her PR to 19:34 while never finishing lower than 3rd in any of five races this season. She proved her mettle against strong competition by finishing 2nd in the 4A-5A race at Asics.
Girls Honorable Mention
Georgia Piper, Hebron Christian (1A Private): 20:41 at Alexander/Asics Invitational, 1st in 1A-3A race
Bella Fields, Bremen (2A): 21:29 at Heard County Meet #1, 1st
Columbus (4A): 23:15 team average at LaGrange Invitational, 1st AND 22:28 team average at Westover Invitational, 2nd
Jillian Strickland, Centennial (6A): 20:04 at Westover Invitational, 1st
Maddie Jones, Marietta (7A): 19:41 at Great American XC Festival, 74th in Race of Champions