Just one routine run made a major impact on Kiara Woods’ thinking when it comes to running.
Never a self-described hardcore runner before her sophomore year, Woods got the taste of finishing first on her team at Flowery Branch during a time trial for a track race. That planted the seed for wanting to win as many races as she could possibly corral from that point forward.
“The first time I finished first in a race was an amazing feeling and I just wanted to keep that going,” Woods said.
Since the time Woods caught the running bug in the 10th grade, she’s turned into one of the best female runners in the state. This season, she finished second at the Class AAA state meet with a time of 18 minutes, 37 seconds, her second consecutive runner-up finish at state.
For her efforts, Woods is The Times’ 2009 Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year.
“This year’s state meet is what I’ll remember most about running cross country in high school,” said Woods, a senior. “I was really hoping to finish in the top five in the state.”
Even with lofty expectations of finishing top five, she knew that much more than that was possible as the race progressed in Carrollton. Woods’ main competition down the stretch was Allie Schiach, the Region 7-AAA champion from Lambert, and the eventual state champ, Allie Buchalski of Johns Creek.
“I was upset, at first, that I didn’t win the race,” Woods said. “But then I had to take a step back and look at the big picture of things and not let one race overshadow everything else.”
“Finishing second is like being the bridesmaid to her,” Flowery Branch coach Jimmy Sorrells said. “She’s not satisfied with finishing second.”
And Sorrells says that the improvement Woods made since her freshman season is unmatched. As a freshman, Woods was 152nd at state, 44th as a sophomore and runner-up the past two seasons. “Statistically, her level of improvement is unbelievable,” Sorrells said. “She worked unbelievably hard and reaped the benefit.”
All season, Woods had high-level performances wherever she raced. She placed first at the Hall County Championships (18:28) and second in Region 7-AAA (19:25). Along with those finishes, Woods also grabbed second at the Carrollton Invitational (18:47).
Woods also placed high in a regional with a second-place finish at the Wendy’s Invitational (18:19) and then ran a new personal best of an 18:15, 36th overall, at the Foot Locker Southeast Regional on Nov. 28 in Charlotte, N.C.
Her training technique is one of the keys to her success on the running trail. She makes a habit of running with the boys’ team for the challenge of training with those that are faster, as well as working on keeping step for step with Sorrells.
“I’m just always working as hard as I can to see how much I can improve,” Woods said.
Her need to push herself running has clearly paid off. She’s mulling over options for running cross country and track in college next season at either Clemson, Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee, among many others. She’s leaving a fifth spot open for another school that could still come into the picture before graduating from Flowery Branch in the spring.
Woods has already taken official visits to Clemson and Georgia and liked both programs, according to Sorrells. She’s also planning a trip to Alabama.
“She’s going to have her pick with where she goes to school,” Sorrells said. “Kiara is as recruited as any high profile football player in the county.”