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Cross Country: Yonas wins individual title, helps South to third-place finish
Denmark's Morgan Grace Sheffield posts fastest freshman time
Carmel Yonas
South Forsyth sophomore Carmel Yonas crosses the finish line Saturday during her first-place finish at the Class 7A state championships in Carrollton. - photo by David Roberts

CARROLLTON — Carmel Yonas admits she doesn't have many fond memories of running in the rain. 

She certainly has one now.

Yonas trudged through a hilly, meandering course Saturday at the Class 7A cross country state championships at Carrollton High School, a track made more treacherous by a constant drizzle of rain. 

South Forsyth's sophomore runner overcame the elements, finishing first with a time of 18:48, giving the War Eagles their second individual state champion in as many years. Madelynne Cadeau won in 2019.

"It was a little unexpected and expected at the same time,"  South head coach Christine Shaw said. "We knew she had a shot after the Asics race. We've always just kind of let her run her race and said, 'Hey, just try to stay with this person.' It kind of panned out. We gave her a little encouragement and told her just to run her race and be confident, and it paid off in the end." 

In the end, there was nobody left for Yonas to stay with. 

She pulled away from Gainesville junior Ashley Thompson in the second mile, creating enough separation through the second half of the race that by the time Thompson crossed the finish line, Yonas had been done for more than 16 seconds. 

Thompson finished just under 2 seconds ahead of Yonas at the Region 6-7A meet, but Yonas pulled through Saturday when it mattered most.

"At first, like the first mile and a half, we pretty much just stuck together," Yonas said. "She was ahead most of the time. When we were doing our second lap — actually, right over there — I caught up to her and just made that surge."

Yonas made her surge in the middle of a downpour that was never supposed to happen.

"Actually, the forecast said all week that there was no rain," Shaw said. "This morning when I looked, it said 30 percent chance at 2 p.m., and here we are."

"Personally, I don't like running in the rain, and I've stated that multiple times during practice," Yonas said with a laugh.

Yonas wasn't certain how the weather would affect her chances but remained undeterred.

"Honestly, I was a little unsure, just because it started to rain and I didn't know how I was going to do," Yonas said. "In the end, I was just like, 'Make the best out of it and just go with how you feel.'"

South's girls team, which won the Region 6-7A championship, finished third overall, behind first-place Marietta and Hillgrove. 

Yonas' younger sister, Isabel Yonas (19:54), snagged a ninth-place finish, while Emma O'Connor (21:01, 40th), Siena Brennan (21:29, 63rd) and Janisha Patil (21:40, 72nd) rounded out the War Eagles' top five.

"Emma O'Connor has been one of our top runners since she was a freshman," Shaw said. "She just knows how to run this course and did the same thing today as a senior. Carmel's sister, Izzy, came out of nowhere and finished ninth overall. We knew she was strong, but we weren't sure how that was going to go. It was a great day."

Morgan Grace Sheffield
Denmark freshman Morgan Grace Sheffield fights through the final seconds of Saturday's Class 7A state championship race in Carrollton. - photo by David Roberts
Denmark's girls team finished 12th thanks in part to a third-place showing by Morgan Grace Sheffield. Just a freshman, Sheffield's 19:44 marked the fastest time by a ninth-grader.

The Danes didn't have a single senior in their top five, as juniors Jessica Perriello (20:22) and Kendall Hilyer (21:58) finished 15th and 93rd, respectively, and sophomores Olivia Edge (22:02) and Jade Lopez (22:24) shored up the Danes' top runners.

Charlotte Lawson's 10th-place finish (19:55) headlined Lambert's girls team, with Amanda Feeney (20:43, 27th), Isabelle Gaharan (21:11, 48th), Bella Cammarota (21:44, 75th) and Caroline Harris (21:47, 78th) helped the Longhorns to finish eighth. 

West Forsyth's seniors led the way for the Wolverines, as Brooke Simon (20:37, 22nd), Rachel Murray (20:51, 34th), Ava Krogman (21:27, 61st) and Cami Merkel (22:00, 94th) led West to a 10th-place finish. Junior Sophia Slavov finished 70th with a 21:37.

Marietta senior Kamari Miller ran away with the boys race, breaking the course's 5K record with a time of 15:29 to help Marietta to a state title.

Denmark junior Ethan Ashley led all county runners with a sixth-place time of 16:36, helping the Danes to a fourth-place finish. 

Tavian Anderson (17:10, 24th), Chinmay Dongari (17:21, 34th), Xavier Anderson (17:23, 36th) and Hayden Hare (17:36, 49th) all posted times under 18 minutes for Denmark, which raced in its first Class 7A state championship. 

South junior Nate Verska led the War Eagles with a ninth-place finish (16:41), propelling South into ninth place.

South Forsyth's boys cross country team cheers on Carmel Yonas as she crosses the finish line Saturday during the Class 7A state championships in Carrollton. - photo by David Roberts

"Boys, we wanted to crack the top 10 and they totally did it," Shaw said. "I'll take a shout out to our entire boys team. We've really focused on the second loop, and they maintained within themselves their race strategy for the first loop and just brought it home the second loop. The amount that they gained on the entire race in that second loop was incredible."

Ben Bergey capped his sophomore year with a 17:36, good for 50th place, while Pujith Veeravelli (17:56, 66th), Sebastian Elisan (17:58, 68th) and Sam Gullo (18:07, 85th) followed.

Lambert senior Colin Chapman paced the Longhorns with a 17:30, landing in 43rd place. Lambert next four runners finished within 15 spots of one another, as JT Pentland (17:51, 59th), Calvin Stilwell (17:56, 64th), Hayden Nicholason (17:57, 67th) and Lucas Bekele (18:01, 73rd) rounded out the Longhorns' top five.

West Forsyth placed two runners in the top quarter of the race, as Tyler Doty finished 17th with a 16:56 and Trent Bell finished 40th with a 17:28. Aidan Portelli (18:10, 89th), Paul Griffin (18:16, 95th) and Will Conner (18:22, 100th) helped the Wolverines to a 14th-place showing.