The White County High School cross country teams capped off the 2020 season with a solid performance last Friday at the Class AAA meet in Carrollton.
The Lady Warriors came up with a solid effort throughout the lineup, putting all seven runners in the Top 70, to finish fourth in the team standings. The fourth-place finish was the team's best since 2016, when the girl's squad finished third in the Class AAAA race. The Lady Warriors had finished fifth the past three years, but found a way to get back in the first four teams. The Warriors returned to the state meet and posted a 14th place finish, led by senior Eamonn O'Bryant's seventh-place finish.
The race for the top spot in the girl's division came down to a private school power and four teams from Northeast Georgia. Westminster took the team title with 50 points, while Oconee County was second with 58 points. The next three spots was a battle between a trio of Region 7-AAA schools. North Hall, led by Caylee Wagner, who won the state individual title, finished third with 72 points, while the Lady Warriors were next with 125 points, and Cherokee Bluff finished fifth at 136 points.
“The girls set the goal at the beginning of the season of getting on the podium and we couldn't be prouder of the work they have put in throughout the season,” WCHS head coach Carrie Vandegriff said. “The girls knew what they had to do. They showed up, ran for their team, and accomplished their goal.”
Sydnee Nix and Nealeigh Broadwell led the effort with a pair of Top 20 performances. Nix capped off her prep career with a 13th place finish, crossing the line at 21:38, while Broadwell, who missed the state race last year due to an injury, was 18th at 22:01. Lily Gearing was just outside the Top 20, finishing 23rd at 22:20, while Reese Vandegriff was 30th at 22:39. Josie Stover had a time of 23:44 to finish 44th in her final high school race, Ella Blair was 52nd at 24:21, and Leah Alexander was 70th at 24:56 in her last high school race.
“Our veterans knew what to expect,” Vandegriff said. “Sydnee, Lily, Josie, and Reese have all been to state before, so they knew what to expect. This is a team race, and if you haven't been on this course before, you have no idea what it's like. They pulled this team together and all of the girls came through for us.
Westminster got the state meet started by winning the boy's state title in the opening race of the day on Friday. The Wildcats totaled to 54 points to finish well ahead of Dawson County, the 7-AAA champions, who totaled 97 points. Oconee County (124), Cherokee Bluff (146) and Southeast Bulloch (180) rounded out the Top 5 in the team standings.
Mary Person's Justin Wachtel and North Hall's Andrew Jones, two of the top runners in the state, finished at the top of the leaderboard. Wachtel won the state title with a time of 15:51, while Jones was second at 16:11. Wachtel and Jones will be teammates next year at the University of Virginia.
Southeast Bulloch's Avery Jaynes (16:26), Westminster's Matthew Fernando (16:27), Coahulla Creek's Lane Hollis (16:46) completed the Top 5 among the 221 runners in the field.
O'Bryant and Hart County's Diego Martinez battled for the next spot, with Martinez holding on for the sixth-place spot at 17:01, while O'Bryant had a time of 17:04.
O'Bryant has made a yearly decent at the state meet after finishing 45th as a freshman. He was 28th as a sophomore, and finished 20th as a junior. O'Bryant's seventh-place finish is the best for a WCHS male runners since 1997 when Jonathan Sutton finished seventh in the Class AA meet.
O'Bryant's performance puts him in the conversation as the best runner in the history of the boy's program.
“His consistency and work ethic sets him apart,” Vandegriff said. “He is one of the leaders of our program. He's so well-respected by all the other runners. He worked so hard this season to reach his individual goals, but he also pushed the boys to improve so they could make it to state as a team. He's probably the biggest cheerleader on the boys team; he cheers for them and does everything he can to help them get better.”
On the heels of the Top 10 finish, O'Bryant gets the opportunity to extend his prep career for one more race. O'Bryant earned an invitation to the Meet of Champions Saturday in Fayetteville. The race will be run on the same course O'Bryant posted a time of 16:15.52 earlier the season, the best 5K time of his high school career.
The Warriors finished 14th among 32 teams in the field, with two other runners breaking into the Top 100. Lance Kelley turned in a time of 19:18 to finish 74th and Maverick Aguilar was 77th with a time of 19:21. Steve Petty finished at 20:49, Logan Long clocked in at 21:12, Cole Gearing had a time of 22:10, and Isaac Sosebee finished at 23:04.
“If you haven't run this course before, been in this environment, you have no idea what to expect,” Vandegriff said. “Most of our guys had never run this course, but they were motivated and they performed well. Our guys ran some amazing races at region in order to get the team to state. We beat more than half the schools at state, so it's a great point to start building for next year.”