CARROLLTON — Ethan Ashley knew staying patient was part of the plan.
So, during the first mile when a pack of about a dozen runners formed with Ashley somewhere in the middle, the Danes' senior leader stayed focus.
And at the 2-mile mark, as Ashley broke out of the pack only to have Marietta's James May just a couple of feet away in lockstep, Ashley knew the second half of the race belonged to him.
"Coaches had said, 'Hey, we want to chill in the beginning and really hammer it and get after it in the second half,'" Ashley said. "He was sticking with me, which was a little scary in the beginning there, but I just remembered to trust the training and everything that we had done to get me to this point. Stay confident in my abilities."
Ashley surged ahead during the final leg of the Carrollton course, conquering "separation hill" and racing down the final decline and toward the finish line with no other runners in sight, capturing the Class 7A state championship with a time of 15:45.
"It's awesome to get out here," Ashley said. "I don't think it's fully set in yet. It's been a goal all season; I've been working toward it, so I felt like I could get it. But to have that over with and to finally say I'm state champ, I think is really special. I'm super grateful to be able to say that."
Ashley trimmed nearly a minute off last year's time [16:36], when he finished in sixth place. As a sophomore, Ashley placed fourth, and during his freshman year, he finished 17th.
This time around, the strategy was different.
"I would have either tried to go with them or panicked early on, but having a little bit of confidence from this season and trusting what the coaches told me," Ashley said. "Just kind of hang back and relax and save my energy for that second half helped a ton. Super grateful for them to help coach me up and help me get to the point where I am now."
Ashley, who won a Region 6-7A championship two weeks ago, finishes his senior cross country season undefeated, taking first place in every single race this season.
Saturday's race began at 12:30 p.m., which gave runners plenty of time before competing — perhaps too much time for some.
That wasn't the case for Ashley.
"I'm grateful to say I think God gave me a lot of peace this morning," Ashley said. "I was worried that having that extra time would make me super nervous, but just talking to family and reading my Bible on the bus this morning, it just all helped calm me down. Heading into the race, I just kept telling myself that I've done this over and over again; this is my fifth time here. It's been a whole four years in the making, and I was blessed to be calm and just help the guys and get them hyped up."
Denmark's boys team finished third overall, trailing only first-place Mill Creek and runners-up Marietta.
Tavian Anderson [16:54] and Xavier Anderson [16:59] contributed a couple of solid times, finishing 13th and 18th, respectively. Ethan Bridge turned in the race's fastest freshman time, finishing 31st with a 17:17, while Ben Sydell ran a 17:58 to finish 70th.
West Forsyth finished fourth overall, led by Trent Bell's sixth-place time of 16:29. Charlie Cavanaugh [16:51] finished 12th, while Diego Fernandes [16:57] finished 16th, Parker Chase [17:38] finished 51st and Cole Schmoyer [17:48] finished 59th.
Lambert managed a seventh-place finish behind strong running from Reid Latimer [23rd; 17:07], Jackson Hogsed [42nd; 17:27], Calvin Stilwell [50th; 17:37], Patrick Lawson [57th; 17:44] and Kushan Patel [63rd; 17:53].
Nate Verska represented South Forsyth individually and finished fifth overall with a 16:26.
South had another impressive showing as Carmel Yonas placed second overall in the girls race, finishing with a 19:20. Yonas, the reigning state champion, finished behind Harrison sophomore Samantha McGarity, who cut nearly two minutes off last year's time to place first with a 18:39.
Isabel Yonas also improved on her freshman time at the state meet, finishing sixth with a 19:45, three places and nine seconds ahead of last year's debut. Caroline Turner [21:27] finished 60th, while Molly Hanlon [77th; 21:45.13] and Janisha Patil [78th; 21:45.28] finished with less than a second of separation as the War Eagles placed sixth.
Lambert had the best team showing of any Forsyth County girls cross country team, placing fifth thanks to a trio of top-25 juniors. Isabelle Gaharan [20:18.44] finished 21st and Amanda Feeney [20:18.65] finished 22nd, while Bella Cammarota ran a 20:24 and finished 25th. Caroline Harris [64th; 21:34] and Amelia Ogden [85th; 21:49] rounded out the Longhorns' times.
Denmark finished 10th behind a 14th-place finish by Morgan Grace Sheffield [20:01] and a 24th-place time from Jessica Perriello [20:24]. Olivia Edge [21:24] finished 55th, Kendall Hilyer [21:52] finished 87th and Elena Lawler [22:08] finished 99th.
West Forsyth took 17th, and the Wolverines were led by freshman Tess Krogman [44th; 21:07]. Audrey Anderson [113th; 22:23], Hannah Tillery [116th; 22:25], Lily Flood [123rd; 22:39] and Calli Crawford [125; 22:44] followed.