For the ninth year in a row, the White County girls' cross country team will be making the trek to Carrollton for the Georgia High School Association's cross country championships.
The Lady Warriors will toe the start line at 9:45 a.m. Friday morning to compete with the best runners in the Class AAAA state meet. The Class AAAA races kick off the two-day meet, which features six races on Friday, and 10 races on Saturday. Along with the AAAA races, the Class AAAAAA and Class AAAAA will be contested on Friday on the course around the campus of Carrollton High School.
The Lady Warriors have finished in the Top 5 six times since 2012, including a fifth place finish last year.
The Lady Warriors earned the state bid two weeks ago with a third-place finish at the 7-AAAA meet in Atlanta. Despite being without one of their top runners (Nealeigh Broadwell), the Lady Warriors had no trouble extending their state streak. Marist won the region title with 28 points, with Blessed Trinity second at 36 points, and White County checking in third with 81 points.
At the region meet, the Lady Warriors had three runners place in the Top 15 – Ellie Gearing, Sydnee Nix, and Lily Gearing.
Ellie Gearing, a senior, has maintained the top spot in the lineup all season and the region race was not different as she turned in a time of 20:18 to finish 13th. Nix was right behind in 14th place with a time of 20:30, and Lily Gearing crossed the finish line next in 15th place with a time of 20:52.
Reese Vandegriff, Josie Stover, Maggie Davidson, and Leah Alexander rounded out the lineup at the region meet.
“The girls ran a great race at region,” WCHS head coach Matt Dover. “The girls did a great job, they meet our expectations. They were super consistent throughout the lineup. We weren't sure how it would effect us not having Nealeigh, and it did effect us some, but all of the girls picked it up and filled the gap. They were focused and ran a solid race.”
In the Class AAAA poll released the week after all of the region meets were finished, the Lady Warriors were ranked No. 5, behind Marist, St. Pius, Blessed Trinity, and Oconee County.
Marist is the odds on favorite to win the state title. The War Eagles won the 7-AAAA title and their lineup has a state-best 19:41 average this season.
On paper, St. Pius is the also in the conversation for a state title with a 19:45 average, while Blessed Trinity comes in with a 19:55 average. Oconee County (20:03), White County (20:43) and North Oconee (21:31) are in the next tier.
“We're excited and I'll be surprised if we don't get back on the podium,” Dover said. “Obviously there are a lot of factors and anything can happen in a race, but the girls have worked hard and they are ready for the race. They've put in the work since region; they've done a lot of speed work. At this point of the season, they are a little sore, hurting a little, and they are tired of the 6 a.m. Practices. But they are still practicing hard, putting in the work, and excited about running at state. We peaked at region, and want to keep doing that on Friday.”
The Warriors weren't able to earn a team spot in the state meet this year, but junior Eamonn O'Bryant will represent the program, earning an individual spot thanks to a Top 6 finish in the region race.
O'Bryant turned in a time of 16:42 to put himself in the Top 6 and earn a region medal.
The boys' state race on Friday is the first race of the weekend, beginning at 9 a.m.
“Eamonn had to finish in the Top 6 (to get a state spot), and he did that,” Dover said. “He ran such a great race. He ran strong and held his own against some of the best runners in the state. He's been working hard and he always does whatever we ask him to do. The whole team ran a good race at region, but we're in such a tough region with Marist, Denmark, Blessed Trinity and Flowery Branch.”
The boys' team title could come down to a battle between teams from Region 7-AAAA. Denmark is the favorite with a 16:43 team average, while Blessed Trinity (17:03), Chestatee (17:07) and Marist (17:13) are also state-champion threats.