Memphis Rich was very impressive this fall
After a brief hiatus, the South of the Border team returns in 2022 to recognize the best runners in South Georgia. While the region doesn't have the same concentrated talent and host as many large invitational meets as the Metro Atlanta area, it nevertheless produced a number of state champions, fast times, stand-out performers, and arguably the best runner in the state on the ladies' side. The South of the Border team recognizes these athletes and their accomplishments. It takes into account an athlete's personal best, how many races they won, the success of their team, and their performance in region and state competition.
There's some debate as to what constitutes South Georgia. For the sake of clarity, this year's South of the Border recognition looks at the counties anchored around Columbus, Albany, Valdosta, and Savannah.
Boys Runner of the Year
Being the top man in 7A often gives you a claim to being the top man in entire state, and it certainly makes Rich the best runner in South Georgia for 2022. After starting off his season in a few out of state meets at the Cecil Field Summer Classic in Florida and the Southern Showcase in Alabama, Rich took wins at Wingfoot and Asics. His 15:31 at Asics was especially impressive given that he ran it in the 5A-7A race rather than in the championship, and he undoubtedly would have gone faster had he raced earlier in the morning. Rich probably staked his case for being in the fast section next year when he won the GHSA 7A state title in a time of 16:21 on a day when Carrollton seemed to be running even slower than normal. His four individual wins on the year and his state title in Georgia's deepest classification make him the South of the Border runner of the year.
Isaac Chambers (Lowndes)
Although Lowndes has a history of producing strong distance runners, in the past they've mostly stayed in South Georgia for their regular season meets. This season, however, they traveled north to race at Wingfoot, Asics, and Coach Wood. This paid off, as the Vikings finished 15th in 7A. Isaac Chambers led the Vikings throughout the season. His lone win was at the challenging Dueling Summits Invitational in Tallahassee, but he performed well at every large invitational Lowndes competed in, finishing the season with a personal best of 16:28 and a 31st place finish at the state meet.
John Dodson (Benedictine Military School)
Benedictine Military School out of Savannah might not be known for producing distance runners, but Dodson could change that. The sophomore built on a solid freshman campaign by winning four races, including his region championship. Dodson finished the season with a personal best of 16:26 and a 9th place finish at the 4A state championship.
Sawyer McGinnis (Crisp County)
McGinnis splits time as a soccer player, so he has a tendency to fly a little under the radar during cross country and track. Nonetheless, he was able to put a strong season together. He won three races: the Furlow Fast Feet Invitational, the Deerfield-Windsor Invitational, and his region meet. He finished the season with a personal best of 16:35 and a 16th place finish at the 3A state meet.
Tyler Phillips (South Effingham)
Phillips raced fairly often this fall and put up a number of standout performances. He took six wins throughout the season, including taking his region title. At the 6A state championship he ran a 16:49 at Carrollton to finish in 6th place. He broke 17 minutes in every race but one on the year and he ended the season with a PR of 16:03.
John Ryan (Savannah Country Day)
Ryan transferred to Savannah Country Day last year from New York and he's made a habit of inserting himself into the front of the pack in championship races. After finishing all-state last year in cross country and making the podium in the 1600m in the old class A private, Ryan picked up this year where he left off. He won five races - including his section at Carrollton Orthopaedic and his region meet - and had a PR of 16:17. At state he finished a strong 3rd in the 3A race.
Garrison Slaughter (Deerfield-Windsor)
Slaughter opened his season by winning the flat and fast Patriot Pride Invitational and secured two more wins on challenging courses at First Presbyterian Day School's Viking Invitational and at his region meet. He ended his season with a personal best of 16:29 and by leading his team to a state championship in the GIAA in spite of running through a spate of the flu and bronchitis.
Noah Sybert (Richmond Hill)
Sybert ran strong all season for Richmond Hill, complementing Memphis Rich as the team's second low stick. He consistently ran in the low 16s, finishing the season with a 16:07 PR at Wingfoot and as the 24th finisher in a tough 7A race at state. Along with Rich, Sybert gives Richmond Hill a nice foundation for next year.
Girls Runner of the Year
In a year where South Georgia produced a number of standout performances, Margaret Wade stood head and shoulders above the rest. She won seven races throughout the fall. Five of her regular season wins were in the Savannah area, where she seemed to win with ease. She took her region title before winning the 2A state title by 19 seconds. Her only loss of the year came at Asics, where she ran 17:37 for second place and secured the fastest time in the state this year. With her consistency, her fast times, and her nose for first place, Wade was South Georgia's best.
Ava Coffey (Savannah Arts)
Coffey might have been overshadowed by her teammate Wade, but she is a solid runner in her own right and would be the top runner on most teams. She finished the year with a personal best of 18:51 at Asics and a 6th place finish in the 2A championship with time of 20:46.
Georgy Helmers (St. Anne Pacelli)
Helmers had a strong freshman campaign to lead St. Anne Pacelli to its first state title in cross country, where they easily won class 3A in the GIAA. Helmers won four races and dipped under 20 minutes three times, including her personal best of 19:17 at the Deerfield-Windsor Invitational.
Kate Merritt (Coffee County)
Merritt is the latest in a line of strong individuals coming from Coffee County. Merritt picked up 6 wins on the year and was consistently under 20 minutes. She dipped under 19 minutes at the Three Rivers Classic and set a personal best of 18:52.
Jolee Mitchell (Richmond Hill)
Mitchell had a strong freshmen campaign for Richmond Hill, helping lead her team to an easy win at region and a top 10 finish at 7A state. She competed well at big invitations and in the postseason, and ended the season with a personal best of 19:26 at Asics.
Lyric Olson (Savannah Arts)
Olson is the third runner from Savannah Arts to make the list, and this is fitting for a state champion. Along with Wade and Coffey, she gave her team a formidable top three. She didn't run at Asics and wasn't able to put up as fast of a PR as her teammates, but she was 5th in 2A and runner up in her region, where she ran a season best of 19:42.
Julia Wilson (Richmond Hill)
Richmond Hill placed two boys and two girls on the South of the Border teams, and Wilson was a consistent presence at the front of the pack throughout the year. She won two races, broke 19 four times, and ended the year with a personal best of 19:24 at Asics.
Gabby Ware (Columbus)
The freshman from Columbus High School dominated the Muscogee County circuit, winning three of her county meets, taking her region title, and finishing a strong 3rd at the GHSA 3A meet. Her 19:55 at Asics proved to be her season best.