5A Girls Recap: Decatur Dominates, Malerba Gets Dramatic Win

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5A Girls State Meet Recap

Question from the Meet Preview: Can the Decatur Girls win their first XC Title?
Answer from within the first mile: Absolutely Yes.
The Decatur girls positioned themselves well in this race early and they never looked back, led by Gabriella Malerba, Decatur looked, in a word, professional, out there as they dissected the hills in Carrollton.

Starting with the individual race, as documented in the Meet Preview, Gabriella Malerba and Anna Blaich from Decatur, and Lottie Chappell from North Springs were all in the conversation for winning an individual championship, but what we weren't expecting were some of their challengers. Freshman Grace Danser of Maynard Jackson, apparently inspired by a Region 5 win, dove into the battle early along with Bella Brick from Flowery Branch. From the gun, these ladies charged forth and set themselves apart from the rest of the team battle which, at least early on, seemed to revolve around Decatur, Greenbrier, and Northview.

Bella Brick took the lead early. All Photos by Alex Brust

Lottie Chappel took over after the mile and led the rest of the way until the finish

The chase pack at separation slope the first time

Brick started the race strong, pulling everybody out to an early, honest pace. But heading towards the central hill to begin the second loop of the race, we saw Bella Brick had, at some point, relinquished her early lead to Lottie Chappel from North Springs, and a little bit of a gap had opened up between those two, Malerba, Danser, and the rest of the pack. That pack was where all the action was from mile 1 through mile 3, as teams fell away, punished by the fast early pace. The one team that was able to maintain their aggressive early pace was Decatur who still had, not just their Top 5, but their whole top 6 firmly planted in the Top 20 and refusing to flinch. Pushing together, with an insurance runner in tow, Decatur created a clear team separation from everybody else who faded. From a little bit farther back, and moving up to pick off anybody who let their pace slip, we saw Midtown, McIntosh, and Cambridge's jerseys start asserting themselves from the crowds. Even without a "front runner" in conversation for the individual win, these teams made their moves where they counted, pushing well together as they headed towards the playground the second time.

Chappel fell on the final hill but got up and still finished, despite her struggles, in a strong 3rd place

Malerba was in position to take the win after Chappel's fall

Grace Danser impressed as a freshman at her first state meet

The big drama for the day came down the final hill as Lottie Chappel, who led the vast majority of the race up to that point, fell, giving way for a Decatur individual win through Gabriella Malerba and a runner up 2nd place to the freshman Grace Danser. All the credit to Malerba and Danser for being in position to strike when Carrollton took its toll, and all the credit to Lottie Chappel for running such a gutsy race and for literally crawling her way across the line to make sure she held on to the bronze.

Decatur girls were dominant

From a team standpoint, there was no getting around Decatur, but Midtown, McIntosh, and Cambridge mixed it up with each other well, with Midtown's strong 6th place finish from Cary Schroeder giving them the edge over McIntosh for 2nd place, and McIntosh's 5th runner, Kirsten Rose, getting in front of Cambridge's 4th runner for the push they needed to take 3rd.