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Miles, Gearing, White County girls take Region 8-AAAA titles
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A group of runners makes its way around the trail during the Region 8-AAAA championship on Thursday at Unicoi State Park in Helen. - photo by Jared Putnam

Region 8-AAAA championship

Thursday

At Unicoi State Park, Helen

Boys team results

1. North Oconee 36

2. North Hall 41

3. Johnson 93

4. Chestatee 107

5. Buford 116

6. White County 126

7. Stephens County 214

8. Madison County 215

Girls team results

1. White County 57

2. North Oconee 58

3. Buford 71

4. Johnson 85

5. North Hall 118

6. Chestatee 121

7. Madison County 217

Boys individual results

1. Quintin Miles North Hall 15:31.9

2. Junior Suarez Johnson 15:34.7

3. Tyler Jones North Oconee 15:37.3

4. Corson Teasley North Hall 15:54.8

5. Cole Thornton North Oconee 16:03.9

6. Tommy Johnston North Hall 16:05.3

7. Harper Sigler North Oconee 16:06.8

8. Austin Thompson White County 16:10.8

9. Isaac Hernandez Johnson 16:12.8

10. Thomas Moore North Oconee 16:20.3

Girls individual results

1. Jenna Gearing White County 18:21.8

2. Lindsey Grater Chestatee 18:42.3

3. Lauryn Davidson Buford 19:21.4

4. Makayla Ellis North Hall 19:33.1

5. Evelin Avitia Johnson 19:39.3

6. Sophie Brown North Oconee 19:50.0

7. Amy Stanaland North Oconee 19:58.3

8. Rachel Gearing White County 20:05.9

9. Gabby Huff-Streiter North Oconee 20:08.1

10. Sarah Davis Buford 20:10.1

HELEN — Quintin Miles didn’t have to look far for motivation at the Region 8-AAAA cross country championship.

Junior Suarez, who had edged him for the Hall County championship on Oct. 8, led early and was always right with Miles. But Miles was able to dig deep enough to pull away at the finish for his second region championship, finishing in a course-record 15:31.9 on Thursday at Unicoi State Park.

Suarez, the 8-AAAA champion from a year ago, came in second with a time of 15:34.7.

“As I was finishing, I kind of looked over and I saw him pulling ahead of me,” Miles said. “And I was just like, ‘No, this kid isn’t beating me again.’ And that’s what really fueled me through to the finish, I really didn’t want to get beaten by that kid.”

Their fierce battle was emblematic of a tightly-contested day almost all the way around.

Suarez said he had trained really hard the past two weeks for the race.

“It was really intense,” Suarez said. “First, I pushed it. And then he pushed it, too. In the end, I just got too tired and he strided out faster than me.”

White County’s girls, led by Region 8-AAAA individual champion Jenna Gearing, tallied 57 points to edge North Oconee by a point for the team title. Joining those teams in the Nov. 8 state meet in Carrollton will be the girls teams of Buford (71 points) and Johnson (85).

“That’s just a great learning experience for the girls to say, ‘If one girl would have passed me, we would have lost.’ That’s all it is,” White County girls coach Sam Borg said. “That’s the fun part about this sport. It really wasn’t necessarily Jenna that did it for us. It was that third and fourth and fifth girl back there that passed that one more girl so we could win the title.”

The North Oconee boys totaled 36 points to spoil North Hall’s championship hopes by five points. The other two boys teams advancing to state are Johnson (93 points) and Chestatee (107).

The Trojans boys team had Corson Teasley (4th, 15:54.8) and Tommy Johnston (6th, 16:05.3) join Miles in the top 10. North Hall boys coach Drew Rogers said Thursday showed how well-matched the region’s top two teams are.

“We liked it better when we had it a little bit easier, but it makes good competition,” Rogers said. “We know we have to be on our game every week or they’re going to beat us.”

Chestatee boys coach Mark Dunn said he knew his guys had to jump ahead of two teams — Buford and White County — based on regular-season times. So he had his racers target Johnson to pace themselves early and then find Wolves and Warriors runners later in the race.

“If you looked at paper, they didn’t have a chance of doing it,” Dunn said. “But they knew the strategy and they pulled it off. And I’m happy for them. We snuck back into the playoffs.”

Jenna Gearing was more the exception than the rule on Thursday, finishing in 18:21.8 to easily outdistance second-place Lindsey Grater, a Chestatee freshman, by 20.5 seconds for the girls title. Grater had a personal-record 18:42.3. Another freshman, Buford’s Lauryn Davidson, was third, with a 19:21.4.

Jenna Gearing, a junior who claimed her third region championship and will go for a third state title next weekend, stuck to her usual style.

“I always go out fast knowing that if I go out fast it will be easy just to keep that pace because I’ll push myself doing it,” Jenna Gearing said. “So the whole race I just looked ahead and tried to catch the golf cart.”

Rachel Gearing was White County’s other top-10 girls finisher in eighth (20:05.9).

Grater, who has won multiple races in a standout first year of high school, enjoyed going against a two-time state champion.

“It’s kind of eye-opening,” Grater said. “It’s exciting for me to be near someone so good.”

Davidson, meanwhile, helped her team reach state while also achieving a personal milestone.

“It’s really exciting,” Davidson said. “I’ve been trying to break 20 (minutes) for a while.”

Johnson and North Oconee are the only two schools who will send both of their teams to state. Knights coach Lauren Carter said the results were the fruit of the program’s progress over the past couple of years. But even while the results were being announced, she said she couldn’t breathe because she knew it was so close.

“The fact that we made the state in this region, I’m just ecstatic right now. And they’ve worked so hard,” Carter said. “Even if we wouldn’t have qualified, just looking at the times, we had so many people PR (achieve a personal record) today, there’s no way we could have been upset with the performance. Awesome region, tough region. But we did it.”

White County’s Austin Thompson was eighth (16:10.8) and Johnson’s Isaac Hernandez ninth (16:12.8) in the boys race.

North Hall’s Makayla Ellis took fourth (19:33.1), Johnson’s Evelin Avitia fifth (19:39.3) and Buford’s Sarah Davis 10th (20:10.1) in girls.

Now the attention turns to state. Miles is looking for his first state championship, but he knows Suarez, North Oconee’s Tyler Jones (third on Thursday) and a pair of St. Pius X runners will challenge him. He and his coach both said Marist’s Frank Pittman is probably the favorite.

“I’ve had some races that didn’t go anywhere near how I wanted them to,” Miles said. “But it’s really great to seal off the season with a nice win before state.”

Suarez, meanwhile, is hoping to go from top 14 last year to the top five or top 10 this season.

Borg has a feeling the tense competition of Thursday was just an appetizer.

“I’m sure that (the) race that was one point today will be just as close next week,” Borg said. “So it could go either way.”

And Jenna Gearing, even with her previous titles, is taking nothing for granted.

“State I know is going to be tougher than any race I’ve ever ran in,” Jenna Gearing said. “But I’m excited for it and I’ve just got to go out and run.”

Regional events