HELEN — A repeat championship proved to be in the cards for the West Forsyth girls cross country team Thursday at the Region 7-AAA cross country meet at Unicoi State Park.
Just not the championship it was hoping for.
A one-second besting by Flowery Branch (average time 21 minutes, 18 seconds) kept the Lady Wolverines (21:19) from repeating as region champions, but Kat Gibson took home her second title in as many years by beating teammate Taylor Roeck to the finish line by 10 seconds.
In fourth place coming through the first mile and lagging way behind into the second, an uphill climb, Gibson kicked it into gear down the stretch.
“The last mile I pushed as hard as I could and coming through the last 400 meters, I pushed even harder,” Gibson said. “I got even and then kicked again and ended up winning.
“It feels amazing, it’s great.”
Gibson noted that her team set a goal of winning state prior to the start of the season and has been pushing in preparation of attaining that goal the entire season.
“I’m really looking forward to state,” she said. “I want to go and just push as hard as I can and give it my all and try winning it.”
Gibson (19:31), Roeck (19:41), Pickens’ Sarah Turner (20:05), Flowery Branch’s Eileen Devico (20:13), Chestatee’s Kelsey Neukem (20:20.17) and White County’s Jessie Dotson (20:20.49) all qualified for state individually.
The team margin would have been greater had Flowery Branch’s top girls runner, Kiara Woods who finished second, not been disqualified for running off course.
“It’s an unfortunate incident, Flowery Branch coach Jimmy Sorrells said. “It’s one of those things you’re going to learn from but, in our opinion, what we’re going to do as coaches is blame ourselves. We’re supposed to make sure our athletes are familiar with the course, so we take full responsibility.”
The Chestatee (22:04) and North Hall (22:27) girls were the final two teams to qualify for the state meet.
The Flowery Branch boys joined their female counterparts in a championship run, winning region with an average time of 16:47.
On the boys side, the entire Falcons team (seven runners) finished in the top 15, giving Class AAA’s No. 1 ranked Flowery Branch an average time of 16 minutes, 47 seconds in the 3-mile race, 12 seconds better than second-place finisher North Hall.
The Trojans, ranked No. 5 in the state, still managed to boast a champion of their own in senior Nolan Clark who, with a time of 16:11, took the boys individual title by four seconds over second place finisher, Pickens’ Tyler Dunn.
Dunn looked in control coming down the stretch, leading Clark with less than a mile to go. Clark, however, knew he had him right where he wanted him.
Headed by Clark, North Hall will join Flowery Branch at Carrollton for the state meet.
West Hall (17:40), the state’s No. 8 team, and Chestatee (18:13) rounded out the top four for the boys, all of which will participate in next week’s state meet.