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POY WATCH: Girls cross country loaded with returning talent
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South Forsyth's Kaylee DuPont (left) and West Forsyth's Reagan Poteet lead a group of strong runners in the county returning this season. - photo by File photos

The Player of the Year Watch is presented by Nalley Roofing.

In one sense, the shadow of Savannah Carnahan looms over every returning Forsyth County girls cross country runner.

Carnahan ended her career at South Forsyth as one of the most accomplished runners in county history. She was the Forsyth County News’ Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year three straight seasons and finished in the top 5 at the GHSA State Championships three times. Carnahan went on to sign an athletic scholarship with Furman University.

So Carnahan’s graduation leaves room for someone else to ascend and become the county’s best. Who will it be? Here are five runners to watch this upcoming season, in alphabetical order:

MILICENT BERGEY SOUTH FORSYTH

The rising senior is just one of Carnahan’s former teammates on this list, and she’s been a key component of a Lady War Eagles program that’s finished runner-up in Class 6A at the state meet the past two seasons.

Bergey finished 10th in Region 6-6A and 15th in Class 6A at state last season with seven top-10 finishes in all.

Why Bergey: She’s as experienced as they come in the county. South has relied on her to be a key contributor ever since her freshman season, so she won’t be fazed by the biggest meets and moments of the season.

Why not: While Bergey has been one of the county’s fastest runners during her career, her times haven’t been among the “elite” on the state level. But she’s obviously improved: she went from a 24th-place finish at state in 2014 to 15th last season. Can she make another jump this season?

KAYLEE DUPONT SOUTH FORSYTH

The rising junior is the other of Carnahan’s former teammates with a shot to take over as the best in the county.

DuPont finished third in Region 6-6A and at the state meet last season with nine top-10 finishes in all.

Why DuPont: She finished third at the state meet in Class 6A last season, and the two runners who finished in front of her – Carnahan and Northview’s Lindsey Billings – both graduated. A little math suggests DuPont is arguably the top girls runner in 6A returning this season.

Why not: In cross country, there’s always a certain crop of freshmen who instantly become top runners, a similar dynamic in several other girl sports. There are sure to be a few this season. Otherwise, DuPont is in a healthy position to win individual region and state titles.

LIZ GALARZA WEST FORSYTH

The rising senior has been another staple contender in the county since her freshman season, but she had something of a challenging one as a junior.

Galarza competed in just a handful of meets last season, missing both region and state.

Why Galarza: Despite last season’s struggles, Galarza has the history of a contender. Two seasons ago, she was the top county finisher at state, placing third in 6A. Plus, after missing much of cross country season, she rebounded nicely in the spring during track and field to finish fifth in the 3,200-meter run at the state championship.

Why not: Injury is always the biggest x-factor in high school cross country, as Galarza and West found out last season. Here’s hoping last season was an aberration for Galarza.

MALLORY LUSKUS WEST FORSYTH

One of the county’s top newcomers last season, the rising sophomore finished ninth in Region 6-6A and 21st in Class 6A at state as a freshman.

Why Luskus: Luskus figures to only get better with another off-season of training with the Lady Wolverines. West’s depth also figures to help Luskus; she has plenty internal competition from Galarza, Julie Ericson and Reagan Poteet to help her reach her potential.

Why not: On the other hand, maybe that depths works against Luskus? Maybe the trio of seniors are supremely motivated to go out on top and run out of their minds?

REAGAN POTEET WEST FORSYTH

Poteet transferred in from Kell last season and made an instant impact for the Lady Wolverines, finishing eighth in Region 6-6A and 25th in Class 6A at the state meet.

Why Poteet: She’s done this before. As a sophomore at Kell in 2014, she finished sixth in Class 5A at the state meet. After getting her first taste of running in the state’s largest classification last season, Poteet will be ready for anything this season.

Why not: There’s the matter of her teammates, all of whom could break out in their development for a phenomenal season.

Others to watch: Julie Ericson, West Forsyth; Brianna O’Neal, Lambert.