The Falcons boys and girls teams each earned their fifth consecutive trip to the state meet with top four finishes Thursday at the Region 7-AAA meet at Unicoi State Park in Helen.
Daniel Martinez finished third overall (16-minutes, 55-seconds) in the boys race to pace the Falcons (51 points) to the region title. Also placing in the top 20 for the Falcons were Jeffrey Velez (10th), Maurice Riden (11th), Kenny Slavik (13th), J.T. Orr (14th) and David Farist (19th).
"I feel like our team ran well today," Martinez said.
Those high finishers for the Falcons were enough to hold off runner-up West Hall. Zack Loggins finished sixth (17:32) and Andy Martin (17:33) finished sixth and seventh respectively for the Spartans.
"To be honest I was a little nervous at first, because West Hall was running so well," Flowery Branch coach Jimmy Sorrells said. "This was a great race today, and another good battle.
"That’s our goal, to qualify for state, and that’s a compliment to Region 7-AAA because this is such a great region."
Also qualifying for state on the boys side are West Hall (56), North Hall (108) and Chestatee (143).
Eileen Devico placed eighth in the girls race (21:15) to lead the Lady Falcons to a third-place finish. That brings an end to a three-year championship streak for the Lady Falcons in Region 7-AAA. Kiara McCue-Woods placed 17th (22:00) and Ali Wellborn finished 19th (22:15) for the Lady Falcons.
West Forsyth’s Katherine Gibson won the girls race (20:01) to pace the Wolverines to the region title in their first season.
North Hall’s Nick Long earned the boys individual title (16:30) for the second consecutive season. Long ran stride-for-stride with teammate Nolan Clark and Martinez in the first mile, before pulling away in the final mile on the course’s steepest ascent. The Trojans’ senior was running all by himself as he made his final trip through the course’s infield.
Long’s victory was a 13-second improvement over his time at the region meet on the same course last season.
"It feels really good to win the region title, even though I had cottonmouth really bad," Long said. "I’m really excited about the state meet now.
"I hope to finish in the top three, and maybe second."
Clark placed second in 16:48. By Clark’s own calculations, he lost the lead to Long on the upswing of the incline that is about 500-meters.
"I can keep up with (Nick) on the flat parts," Clark said. "I just can’t go up hills as fast."
These two accomplished runners, which helped the Trojans earn the Class AAA state meet last season, now have one more race together as far as high school cross country is concerned.
"We’re like brothers out there," Clark said. "It’s going to be my job next year to keep the legacy going."
The top six individual finishers also earn an automatic bid to the state meet.
Rounding out the top 10 in the boys race are Pickens’ Tyler Dunn in fourth (17:00), East Hall’s Eli Martinez in fifth (17:27), Gainesville’s Aurelio Montano in eighth (17:35) and Pickens’ Ray Gonzalez in ninth (17:37).
In the girls race, White County’s Sara Walcott finished second (20:08), North Hall’s Morgan Van Gorder third (20:42), West Forsyth’s Abby Wilson fourth (20:43), Chestatee’s Kelsey Neukem fifth (20:46), Pickens’ Sarah Turner sixth (20:52), White County’s Brooke Dearing seventh (21:12), North Hall’s Patrice Sweet ninth (21:20) and North Hall’s Jennifer Morris 10th (21:31).
The state meet is Nov. 10 at Carrollton High.