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Athlete of the week: Martinez leads Falcon boys to state championship
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Flowery Branch cross country coach Jimmy Sorrells discusses senior runner Daniel Martinez.

Honorable mentions

Micah Bucher, Lumpkin County: Finished ninth with a time of 21:23 in the Region 7-AAA girls championship last Thursday.

Nolan Clark, North Hall: Won the Region 7-AAA boys championship last Thursday with a time of 16:11.

Eileen Devico, Flowery Branch: Finished fourth with a time of 20:13 in the Region 7-AAA girls championship last Thursday.

Jessie Dotson, White County: Finished sixth with a time of 20:20 in the Region 7-AAA girls championship last Thursday.

David Farist, Flowery Branch: Finished fifth with a time of 16:43 in the Region 7-AAA boys championship last Thursday.

Andy Martin, West Hall: Finished sixth with a time of 16:46 in the Region 7-AAA boys championship last Thursday.

Ty McCormack, North Hall: Finished third with a time of 16:28 in the Region 7-AAA boys championship last Thursday.

Kelsey Neukum, Chestatee: Finished fifth with a time of 20:20 in the Region 7-AAA girls championship last Thursday.

Kenny Slavik, Flowery Branch: Finished seventh with a time of 16:49 in the Region 7-AAA boys championship last Thursday.

Trice Sweet, North Hall: Finished eighth with a time of 21:14 in the Region 7-AAA girls championship last Thursday.

Flowery Branch High cross country runner Daniel Martinez didn’t win the Region 7-AAA race last Thursday at Unicoi State Park, but without his 16-minute, 39-second fourth-place finish, Class AAA’s top-ranked Falcons may have not won the region title.

Martinez was the leader among seven Flowery Branch runners that finished in the top 12 of the race with an average time of 16:47. Together, they earned 35 points, 10 points better than second-place North Hall.

With the win, the Falcons head into Class AAA state meet still the top team in the state, and Martinez feels that they are not done winning yet. Earning a state title as a team has been a primary goal for Flowery Branch, and as Class AAA’s best team for the majority of the season, the Falcons believe they can take on the teams that await them Saturday at Carrollton High.

“We have a big bull’s eye on our back, but we’re going to give them (teams in state) a fight,” Martinez said.

Martinez isn’t new to competing at state level. He also represented Flowery Branch in the Class AAA state championship track meet earlier this year, running in the 3,200 meter race as part of a Falcons team that finished second in the state.

But winning at the individual level is also important for Martinez. As the only senior competing in the Falcons’ top seven, the last time to win it all is Saturday.

“Carrollton is a challenging course,” Martinez said. “But we’ve been training.”

Along with racing against harder opponents from other regions, Martinez will also be joined by familiar foes, including one he has raced alongside at the front of the pack in many region races the past two years — North Hall’s Nolan Clark, the winner of last week’s Region 7-AAA race and one of Martinez’s biggest rivals.

“Nolan and I have been battling it out since last year,” Martinez said. “But were friends outside the race.”

But during the preparation for all of his races this year, Martinez has taken another role on the team — a leader. As the oldest member of his teammates competing at state, he encourages younger runners to follow in his footsteps.

“He sets the tone and tempo for the rest of the team,” Flowery Branch coach Jimmy Sorrells said. “He wants to have an opportunity to go out on top. His goal is to make sure the team gets that opportunity.”

That leadership has been essential to Martinez’s teammates’ success, so much that he has been beaten by other Falcon runners in races this year. But that has only made him more of a dangerous runner, according to Sorrells.

“He’s been beaten before by a couple of guys on the team for the first time this year,” Sorrells said. “He took it as a personal challenge, and he can back it up. But that keeps those guys (his teammates) coming after him.”

But even after his days of challenging runners in Region 7-AAA are finished, racing at the next level is part of Martinez’s future plans. He has heard from several colleges interested him as a runner, including North Carolina-Asheville, West Georgia, Piedmont and Central College in Kentucky.

“I want to race for a good team, then try to transfer to a Division-I school,” Martinez said. “But I also want to get a good education.”

But Martinez has one more race before he can think about the future, and it may be his most important yet.

“I have to run every race as if it’s my last,” he said.

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