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Cross country: Ashley continues torrid pace; Denmark boys, Lambert girls win region titles
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Denmark senior Ethan Ashley points toward the sky while crossing the finish line in first place Saturday during the Region 6-7A championships at Roper Park in Jasper. - photo by David Roberts

JASPER — Ethan Ashley continued his sprint through the 2021 cross country season Saturday with a first-place finish at the Region 6-7A championships, helping Denmark's boys team win their third straight region championship. 

Ashley ran a 15:42, finishing more than 19 seconds ahead of second-place runner Nate Verska. Ashley is undefeated and owns the state's fastest time this season [15:01].

"I think it's what he achieved in track," Denmark coach Andrew Hudson said. "I've been coaching 31 years and he's the best boy I've ever coached. I've never had a junior run the times he did in the spring. I knew when you have that kind of a resume, if you continue to develop, big things can happen."

A total of three points separated the top three boys teams, as West Forsyth finished one point behind the Danes and third-place Lambert trailed West by only two points. 

"With 1200 to go, we're probably in third place," Hudson said. "But we had four runners out of the top five who all passed at least one runner, and some of them passed two to three runners. That made the difference. When it comes down to one point, every single one of those moves had to happen, and they did."

Tavian Anderson went from eighth place to seventh place down the stretch, while Xavier Anderson jumped from ninth place to eighth place. Ethan Bridge also made up a spot, going from 15th to 14th, while Ben Sydell passed three runners to finish 23rd.

"Every single one of those mattered," Hudson said. "I think this is the closest region meet I've ever been part of."

Ashley owns wins at the Carrollton Orthopaedic Invitational, Warpath Invitational, Alexander/Asics Invitational, Coach Wood Invitational, and now the Region 6-7A championships. Ashley won a region championship last season at the same course but managed to shave 14 seconds off last year's time.

"It was just kind of the same it's been every race," Ashley said. "Just get out there with the leaders and try to hang on as long as I can if I'm feeling good. Nate [Verska] and Trent [Bell] did a good job of pushing it early on, so we ran a pretty good race."

West Forsyth's Trent Bell and South Forsyth's Nate Verska jockeyed for the lead through the first lap, but Ashley began his push about halfway through the second lap. By the time he crossed the finish line, Ashley was virtually all alone.

"As a guy who doesn't have a great sprint at the end, I kind of learned that the hard way during track season," Ashley said. "I've learned that it's important that you've got to relax in the beginning and just kind of chill, let everybody else set the pace. Then the last mile, you just pick it up and start hammering. That's kind of the best way for me to race, personally. That's what's been working for me."

Carmel Yonas [18:31] won the girls race by nearly half a minute, and Isabel Yonas placed third with a 19:01, but Lambert's girls placed four runners in the top 10, giving the Longhorns the depth needed to edge the War Eagles by two points.

Bella Cammarota finished fourth with a 19:33 to lead the Longhorns, while Amanda Feeney [19:46] finished seventh, Isabelle Gaharan [19:55] finished eighth, Caroline Harris [20:13] finished 10th, and Amelia Ogden [20:30] finished 13th.

All five of South's runners finished inside the top 17, as Caroline Turner [20:15] finished 11th, Janisha Patil [20:26] finished 12th and Molly Manlon [21:01] finished 17th.

The top four teams qualified for the Class 7A state meet Nov. 6 in Carrollton. 

On the girls side, Lambert, South Forsyth, Denmark and West Forsyth qualified. On the boys side, Denmark, West Forsyth, Lambert and Gainesville qualified. 

Carmel Yonas won the Class 7A state championship last year and will look to repeat in two weeks, while Ashley hopes his offseason training leads him to a top spot in Carrollton. 

"A lot of miles and a lot of hard work," Ashley said. "Coach Hudson's been doing an amazing job of giving me exactly what I need at the right time with mileage and workouts and stuff. It's been awesome just kind of hopping on with him and have the guys push behind me and keep me honest. I feel like it's all coming together."

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- photo by David Roberts

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- photo by David Roberts