Savannah Carnahan was searching for answers for why South Forsyth girls cross country was suddenly among the top 10 teams in the state despite being younger and less experienced than a year ago.
The answer was standing right next to her.
“Partly because of a really good freshman,” Carnahan said.
Indeed, the addition of freshman Milicent Bergey has catapulted the Lady War Eagles into contention for a region title and maybe more at the state meet in early November.
With Bergey, South now has a formidable No. 2 runner to pair with Carnahan, who was already one of the county’s top returning runners.
Together, they’ve helped the Lady War Eagles build a resume that has them ranked No. 9 in the latest Ga.milesplit.com Class 6A poll.
“It used to be there was me, two minutes and then the next runner,” Carnahan said. “Now, there’s me, 30 seconds and the next runner. The gap’s closed a lot. She’s been a really great help.”
Carnahan and Bergey have been a strong duo from the very start this season. They finished third and fifth, respectively, at the Pickens Preview. Then it was third and sixth at the NGTC Mountain Eagle Invitational and first and third at the Lambert River Run.
Neither feels they’ve reached their potential.
Carnahan said she’s just recovering from an early-season injury.
“Some of my earlier meets weren’t quite as good as I wanted them to be,” Carnahan said. “They’re getting there though.”
Bergey is still getting used to her first experience of varsity competition.
“At the first meet I was really nervous, because I didn’t know how to start and everything,” Bergey said. “But everybody kind of showed me how to do it. I won’t let myself stop. I got the hang of it and I like it now.”
Carnahan and Bergey are kindred spirits in a way.
Carnahan was the reserved freshman-turned-phenom last season. She was home-schooled or attended private school her whole life until she enter South. All of Carnahan’s apprehension of running and school dissipated once she embraced the family atmosphere of cross country – or rather, when it embraced her.
“It’s a really great team thing,” Carnahan said. “I came in and … I didn’t know anyone.”
She quickly got noticed. Carnahan finished third at the Region 6-AAAAAA meet and 13th at the state meet to establish her as one of the top runners.
Bergey came into South with similar reservations. She’s young enough to be in eighth grade, had never ran a competitive cross country race before and wondered how she’d fit in with the juniors and seniors. But the cross country team took care of her.
“By the end of the summer I had so many friends already, and everybody is so nice,” Bergey said. “I wasn’t as worried.”
Despite Carnahan and Bergey’s strong finishes, the Lady War Eagles have needed all hands on deck. When Natalie Smithson went down with an injury ankle, others stepped up.
Whether it’s been Olivia Turner, Emma Maisel, Savannah Ratcliff, Kayleigh Banks, Madison Levelle or Emily Hodge, South has discovered it has the kind of depth it will need to threaten No. 6-ranked Centennial and hold off No. 10-ranked West Forsyth at region.
“These other girls have come in and filled the gap there,” South coach Van Munn said.
Between Carnahan and Bergey’s emergence and the surge of depth, South’s made impressive strides this season.
After finishing 17th in the team standings at state last season, the War Eagles are eyeing a top-10 finish this season. The goal was for 20:30 to be the team’s average time at meets. Munn had to knock the goal down to 20:15.
“We’re right where we wanted to be,” Munn said. “We can do it. Everybody has to stay healthy, don’t get sick and just do their best at the region and state meet.”