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North Hall's Barger wins state cross country title
Cody Barger runs during the Class AAA state cross country meet Saturday in Carrollton. - photo by For The Times

CARROLLTON — When it was all said and done Saturday, North Hall’s Cody Barger said running the state championship meet in Carrollton felt like the longest 15 minutes of his life.

However, Barger was not only the fastest boys runner in Class AAA with a time of 15 minutes, 35.91 seconds, he was the fastest time in any classification en route to claiming his 11th and most important meet victory of the season: a state championship.

The competition in this particular race was especially stiff with four of the five times under 16 minutes in Class AAA.

“Words can’t describe how I feel right now winning state,” said Barger, still breathing heavy from the frantic pace of the race.

Barger stayed in a pack most of the race with the other three front runners, including St. Pius X’s Brendan Hoban and Zack Sims of Eagle’s Landing. Those three stayed neck-and-neck for the first three miles until Barger pulled ahead with a final surge over the last hill and down to the finish line for a resounding eigh second victory over Hoban.

“Cody really set back on his heels and pushed the pace hard at the end,” North Hall coach Drew Rogers said. “He blew them away in the final quarter mile.”

Coming into the day, Rogers was hoping for a second place finish for both his teams. West Hall coach Sam Borg was most interested in getting a top-four finish and a place on the podium.

They both got their wish.

North Hall’s boys and girls both finished second overall, and West Hall’s Josh Pendley ran a 16:49 in the boys race for a 13th-place finish and fourth-place team finish. Savannah Smith placed 12th overall in the girls race to lead the Lady Spartans to a fourth-place finish as well.

“I was really nervous coming into the day,” Borg said. “But I’m really proud of how our team ran and we got them both on the podium.”

For Barger, it was especially meaningful to get the final victory head-to-head against Hoban, the only person to beat him this season. Hoban, the owner of the state’s fastest time this season at 15:06, won the Coach Wood Invitational by a 1.74 second margin over Barger earlier this season.

Barger wasn’t hesitant to express how much this victory meant against his biggest competitor.

“It was an epic battle with him being from St. Pius and being a Lion,” Barger said. “But it’s hard to run when you get your head cut off.”

In Class AAAA, Kenny Slavik finished fourth overall for Flowery Branch with a time of 16:23.33. The Falcons placed three runners in the top 20 for a third-place team finish behind state champ Marist and second place Chapel Hill.

“It was a close, tight race and our team ran really well,” Flowery Branch coach Jimmy Sorrells said. “Kenny was amazing today.”

“I’m very happy with how everyone ran on our team,” Slavik said. “I’m proud of the team for us to get third.”

Maurice Riden placed 14th for Flowery Branch (16:46) and Drew Garland finished 18th (16:52).

Also for North Hall, Luis Gonzalez finished 14th at 16:56, Brandon Lawson was 18th at 17:11 and Reese Walker finished 19th (17:12).

Victoria Rogers led the Lady Trojans with a time of 19:51.82 and fifth-place finish. Ansley Lawson took 10th place at 20:17.

“Like I’ve said before, this is our dream team,” Lawson said. “I’ve been looking to have a team like this since the eighth grade.

“I’m so happy with how we finished.”

Also for West Hall, Ryan Sharry finished 16th and Taylor Long was 25th overall. North Hall’s Kirsten Niedfeldt was 21st and Sarah Harper placed 32nd.

Behind Pendley’s 13th place finish, the Spartans also took 15th with Jimmy Gault’s 17:03 and 28th from Brandon Nguyen (17:31).

Gainesville’s David Whitson placed 17th (17:10) and Aurelio Montano was 27th (17:31).

Other girls placers in Class AAA included Gainesville’s Sara Hayes in 18th (20:49), White County’s Jessie Dotson was 37th and Chestatee’s Kelsey Neukum was 41st.

In Class AA, Jefferson’s Kyle Kashuba, an individual qualifier to state, finished 14th overall with a time of 17:29. Dawson County earned 27th and 29th overall respectively behind Tyler Thurmond and Jonathan Erickson.

Also in Class AA, Buford’s Maya Dillard finished fourth overall (19:40) and led the Lady Wolves to a fifth-place finish. Jackson County’s Brittany Aikens placed sixth and Rachel Pasco was 11th en route to a fourth-place finish for the Lady Panthers.

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