By Michael Foster
Forsyth Central senior Will Hasse took top honors, placing as the boys individual region champ, and senior Bonnie McKinnon finished third in the girls field as both the Bulldogs and Lady Bulldogs cross country teams qualified for state Wednesday evening with top-four finishes, respectively, at the Region 7-AAAAA meet at Boling Park in Canton.
Central’s boys team finished in first place to clinch their third-consecutive state qualifier and second region title in a row. The girls team, which has only competed as a full team for two years, improved on last year’s second-to-last finish by placing fourth—the final slot to reach the state meet, set for Nov. 7 in Carrollton.
Program coach Shannon Hays, who took over the teams three seasons ago, said the best part from the meet was seeing her goals she set the first day on the job come true.
“It was amazing seeing the girls come out today and win fourth,” Hays said. “We’re really proud of the depth we have in the program and the momentum we’ve got, the community support, the parents involved, and ever since I came here I wanted to build not just a good boys program, but a strong overall program.”
Hasse, a senior, trailed teammates Wes Bacastow and Calan Gizelbach through the first two laps of the three-lap course, but surprised bystanders when he pulled away for an overwhelming lead entering the chute for the finish. It was Hasse’s first first-place finish of his career.
“I didn’t believe it would happen,” Hasse said. “Entering the chute, I was burning everything because I realized, ‘Holy cow, right now I’m region champion and I’ll win my first race.’ I didn’t even care about the finishing time. I saw the time as I crossed the finish line, but I didn’t really care.”
Bacastow placed third with a time of 16:38.95, while Gizelbach and his senior brother, Cole, finished sixth and ninth, respectively (16:48.47, 17:11.57). Central’s boys edged Cambridge by 13 points (42 to 55), while Creekview (87) and North Atlanta (99) placed for state.
McKinnon held third place for nearly the entire race, finishing with a time of 19:55.99. McKinnon only trailed Riverwood’s Anna Hayden and Creekview’s Lauren Wallin. Shana McLochlin placed 17th for the Lady Bulldogs (21:28.90) in her final region meet, while freshman Meredith Edwards and Kierra Higgins placed 31st and 41st with times of 22:10.94 and 23:02.37.
McKinnon has qualified for state before, but looks forward to taking a team with her for her last high school meet.
“My freshman year we barely had enough to even run five girls,” McKinnon said. “I get to bring a team with me. They’re so young, most of them freshman, and for them to come in so young and make a major accomplishment like that is incredible. I hope my presence here has helped lay that foundation as well.”
Creekview, Cambridge and Riverwood took the first three qualifier spots on the girls side.
Wet conditions slowed runners, as well as what Hasse called “thicker than normal” gravel. Runners ran in the gutters of the track to avoid the rockiest parts of the gravel, while the off-road terrain featured all sorts of puddles and nuances.
“I think had the course been dry I could have run my personal best, but it’s whatever,” Hasse joked. “I was still number one. But it slowed things down. It changed the way everyone ran the course.”
For Hasse, he hopes his team can ride the momentum to a state title after placing fifth in the state meet last season.
“I’m pumped,” Hasse said. “I can’t believe today happened. I think that opens a door to keep winning races, once you know you can win one. I hope for these guys, if they saw me do it, they know they can do it, because they’ve beaten me so many times before.”
McKinnon takes Division I opportunity
Before the region meet, McKinnon committed Monday to run cross country for coach David Poteet at Kennesaw State University.
McKinnon had been recruited by Division III Oglethrope, as well as Georgia College, North Georgia and West Georgia—all Division II schools—before taking one last visit to Kennesaw State, a Division I program. She said her familiarity with Poteet, whose daughter, Reagan, runs at West Forsyth, played into the commitment.
“There was just something about him. I knew he was the coach I wanted to run for,” McKinnon said.
“One of my brothers went to Georgia College. I loved Georgia College, the town and everything, but I just wanted to see my extra options. My other brother went to Kennesaw State, so I was familiar with them already too,” McKinnon said.
McKinnon plans to major in biology and “hopes to rebuild the program” at Kennesaw State. Kennesaw State’s women’s cross country team last won a conference title in 2005 under long-time coach Stan Sims.