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Flowery Branch boys win state cross country title

2 area girls win individual titles; multiple Hall County runners finish near top

POSTED: November 9, 2013 9:14 p.m.
Jared Putnam /The Times

Flowery Branch's James Slavik (2726) and Taylor Fiorello (2719) race toward the finish line along with Clarkston's Leiso Tumbo (2431) and Northview's Adam Burkley during the Class AAAAA boys cross country state championship on Saturday in Carrollton. The Falcons won the state championship by placing five runners, including Slavik in Fiorello, in the top 31 overall.

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CARROLLTON — Flowery Branch’s boys cross country runners remember the heartbreaking feeling of finishing runner-up to McIntosh a season ago.

At the state cross country championships on Saturday in Carrollton, the Falcons made sure they didn’t have to experience that same feeling again this season.

Top-ranked Flowery Branch used its depth to overcome an injury and claim the Class AAAAA state championship, the school’s fourth cross country title in the last six years.

“It feels amazing,” Flowery Branch coach Jimmy Sorrells said. “There is no doubt about it. These guys are resilient.
“They work hard and they overcome fantastic obstacles. I’m so proud of them.”

Towns County’s girls also took top honors, repeating as Class A Public state champions, while a pair of area runners repeated as individual state champions.

White County’s Jenna Gearing won a second straight Class AAA state championship, and Union County’s Emma Garrison claimed a second consecutive Class AA title.

Flowery Branch’s boys were hard to recognize until they finally took the stage to accept their championship trophy, but their low profile was by design.

Sorrells was so concerned about opposing teams targeting the South Hall runners that he had the Falcons don all-white alternate uniforms so opponents wouldn’t immediately recognize them.

“We felt a little tension and resentment from other programs toward us (last year), so we took it a little personal,” Sorrells said. “We’re not like that. We try to be humble and appreciative of what we do.

“(Losing last year) left a bad taste in our mouths and we wanted to emphasize that we could come back and do what we needed to do.”

Flowery Branch’s boys ran with confidence throughout the title event and managed to save their best team performance for the biggest race of the season.

“They were very confident,” Sorrells said. “They were very nervous, but at the same time they were very confident. I’m so proud of them.”

Flowery Branch finished with 84 points, well ahead of second place Clarkston, which totaled 134.

The Falcons placed three runners in the top 11 and five in the top 31 to claim the win. Nicholas Ashmead led Flowery Branch with a time of 16:55, followed by Miguel Martinez (16:58) and Brian Young (17:02). Taylor Fiorello (17:34) placed 29th and James Slavik (17:36) was 31st.

Meanwhile, Gearing, a sophomore, finished in 19:29 and edged her 2012 state title time by five seconds. Garrison, also a sophomore, finished with a time of 19:10.

Despite running in colder conditions and at a much earlier start time this season, Gearing said she felt confident that a repeat championship was attainable.

Her confidence was evident throughout the race, as she led after the first and second miles, with Hart County’s Audrey Honiotes not far behind in second place.

“It is definitely special and I was nervous about doing it,” Gearing said. “I definitely felt better (this year) because I knew the course. And this year there was more competition, so it just pushed me harder in practices.”

After leading by just two seconds following the first mile, Gearing was able to extend her lead at the 2-mile mark before keeping the distance in front of Honiotes on the final loop of the challenging course to win by more than 20 seconds.

“I definitely wanted to stay aggressive,” said Gearing, whose White County team finished third with 93 points.

For Garrison, the confidence was there, but so was the thought about potential freshmen that could burst onto the scene as she did last season. At the end of the day, though, it was clear that Garrison was still the superior runner in her classification, as she cruised to the championship by 37 seconds.

“I actually came out with an open mind,” Garrison said. “I didn’t know if there would be any freshmen, like me when I came up, (who would) just blow everyone out of the water. So I just came out with an open mind and hoped for the best.”

Towns County’s girls’ team won the Class A public school race by placing five of its runners in the top 21. Both of Commerce’s teams finished third in the Class A public school races.

Ansley Vardeman (23:21), who finished second overall, and Caitlin Sheffield (23:51), who finished third, led Towns County in the final race of the day.

North Hall’s boys took second in the Class AAA race, the first event of the day. The Trojans finished behind St. Pius X, which placed all five of its runners inside the top nine to earn 26 points.

The Trojans placed all five of their runners in the top 13 to finish with 44 points.

Despite coming up short for top honors, North Hall coach Drew Rogers knew there was not much more his runners could do.

“We ran great. Unfortunately Pius ran better,” Rogers said. “I’m extremely happy. We ask the kids to go out and do the best they can, run as hard as they can, and they did everything we asked them to do. Pius just did it a little bit better.”

North Hall’s girls finished seventh, while Buford’s girls finished sixth and the boys eighth.

In Class AAAA, the Chestatee girls finished in third place, the highest any cross country team from the school has ever placed at the state meet.

“I’m proud of them,” Lady War Eagles coach Meghann Pruett said. “We wanted third place. It’s been a goal of ours now.

“We’re coming with seven strong girls, we’ve battled injuries a little bit this year, but they’re all strong and they feed off of each other.”

The strong third-place finish was one better than last year’s fourth-place mark, which Pruett hopes can continue to move the program in the right direction. Next year, he’ll return six runners who competed in varsity events this season.

“I can’t be prouder,” Pruett said. “This is school history right here. We have goals and it’s disappointing if you don’t reach them, but we did. I can’t say we’re set, but I like the direction a lot.”

In Class AA, Riverside Military’s Marcus Guthro finished second overall with a time of 17:33, as the Eagles placed 10th on the day. Jefferson’s boys finished fifth, averaging a time of 19:02 on the day.

In Class A private, Lakeview Academy’s boys finished fifth, paced by Dustin Snyder (17:26), who finished eighth overall.



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