With a quick glance at his watch and a few long strides down the home stretch, North Hall senior Nick Long won the Hall County championship with a time of 17 minutes, 24 seconds Thursday afternoon at Chestatee Middle School.
Long didn’t start to pull away in the boys race until the second mile, but after a slow start, found a rhythm to cruise to the victory. He didn’t try to set any personal best times on a challenging hilly course.
"This feels great to win the Hall County championship as a senior," Long said. "I feel like I have a good shot at the region title now."
Long’s victory was more of a balancing act than a full sprint. He wanted to conserve energy for his performance in the Great American Festival to showcase his ability in front of college coaches this weekend in Hoover, Ala. But it was still a priority to come out on top at Hall County.
"With only two days between races I definitely wanted to save some energy," Long added.
Flowery Branch’s boys won the team title with its top five finishing in theTop 13. Flowery Branch (41 points) edged out second place finisher West Hall (43) in their first win in three meetings against the Spartans this season. North Hall placed third (76).
Daniel Martinez led the Falcons with a runner-up time of 17:30. David Farist (seventh), Jeffrey Velez (eighth), Maurice Riden (11th) and Justin Souther (13th) all led the way for Flowery Branch.
"We take one race at a time, but this was a good mental boost for our team," Flowery Branch coach Jimmy Sorrells said. "It’s all about the team effort with us."
North Hall junior Nolan Clark finished third (17:39). For West Hall, Andy Martin placed fourth (18:03) and teammates Zack Loggins sixth (18:21), Keegan Kyle ninth (18:25) and Luis Cervantes tenth.
In the girls’ race, North Hall’s Patrice Sweet, a sophomore, won her second consecutive Hall County championship with a time of 21:18. She crossed the finish line four seconds ahead of runner-up Eileen Devico from Flowery Branch.
Even though Sweet felt she held back too much during the race, North Hall’s young runner had enough to finish a solid 40-yards ahead of her nearest competitor.
"I thought the race would be closer," Sweet said. "We have a good rivalry going with Flowery Branch."
The Lady Trojans (44 points) placed five runners in the top 18 to edge out the Lady Falcons (47) for the team title. Chestatee finished third (67).
Sweet’s first place finish was one of many reasons why the Lady Trojans had enough points to take the Hall County title. Morgan VanGorder, a senior and first-year runner at North Hall, stayed with the main pack and finished fourth (21:49). The Lady Trojans also had strong performances by dual-sport fall athlete Jennifer Morris placing ninth (23:14), Elizabeth Niedfeldt finished 12th (23:48), and Connie Steinmann placed 18th (24:37).
"Our team is working really well together and really focusing on winning the region title," Sweet added.
For Flowery Branch, Ali Wellborn finished third (21:44) overall, Brenda Navarro placed 13th (23:54) and Katie Peifer 15th (24:11).
Other notable individual performances included Chestatee’s Kelsey Neukum fifth (21:50) and West Hall’s Liliana Cervantes sixth (22:26).