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High school cross country: North Hall's Clodagh O'Bryant runs superb time as its girls take first at North Hall Invitational
Lady Trojans took first overall with a time of 18:51
Girls runners start at the North Hall Invitational on Sept. 8, 2022 at the North Hall Community Center in Gainesville. - photo by David Friedlander

Paced by some milestone runs, the North Hall girls and boys cross country teams dominated their own North Hall Invitational on Thursday at the North Hall Community Center and Park.

Clodagh O’Bryant broke out early and cruised to the girls individual title to lead four Lady Trojans in the top seven en route to the girls team title with 32 point, easily outdistancing runner-up Jefferson (157) and White County (159).

Meanwhile, the boys got personal-best times from Bryant Young and Jaycob Wagner to post the best team finish for a Hall County team at fourth place with 204 points, trailing only champion Greater Atlanta Christian (138), runner-up Buford (146) and third-place Jefferson (177).

“First of all, (it was) just a big event,” North Hall coach and meet director Sam Borg said. “With middle schools and high schools together, we ended up with about 45 teams, and that’s our biggest meet.

“The girls … had four girls in the top seven. Our top three boys (grouped) up very nicely. Bryant Young had a huge race. He ran the best race of his career. That was a new PR for him, I think 17:05 or something like that. It was really good for him.”

The Trojan girls got big performances from runner-up Jessie Dubnik (19:35), fourth-place Harleigh Smith (20:18) and seventh-place Abi Moore (20:39), but it was O’Bryant who set the pace from the opening gun by sprinting out to a big early lead and never looked back to win the individual race in a time of 18:51.1.

It was a different strategy than she had employed in her first two races of the season, in which she finished as runner-up in both.

It was also a fairly bold strategy given a sore shin that had been giving her problems in practice this week, but she responded with a time that bested her mark in winning last year’s event by almost three seconds, and possibly setting a new course record.

“I tried something new, to go out really hard because in the first two races I ran, that’s kind of what the first-place runner did, and I got second,” O’Bryant said. “They created a big gap, and I wasn’t able to get back into it. So I really wanted to try that.

“I haven’t run (hard much lately). I’ve been just jogging 10 minutes the last couple of days because I’ve had an injury in my lower shin. I was a little nervous about that, but (Thursday’s race) gave me a lot of confidence.”

The performance of O’Bryant and teammates Dubnik, Smith and Moore, as well as fifth scorer Emma Morrow (18th, 22:12) to give the Trojans a great deal of confidence as they head on toward the county meet, and eventually the postseason in Class 4A.

“We’ve had a couple more injuries (lately), so this was a scary meet to go into,” O’Bryant said. “But our team has been amazing in practice. We’ve worked on our mentality, and I think it’s really paid off.”

Among Hall County’s other girls teams in the event, Flowery Branch, Cherokee Bluff and Chestatee came in consecutively, with the Falcons taking eighth paced by Bella Brick, who placed third at 20:05, the Bears placing ninth behind Adison Myers’ fifth-place finish in 20:29 and the War Eagles taking 10th led by Caroline Bull’s ninth-place run at 21:15.

West Hall wound up in 18th place at 420, with Amy Sica leading the Lady Spartans runners by finishing 35th in 23:34.

Young’s seventh-place finish at 17:11.7 and Wagner’s nine-place showing in 17:26.7 were both PRs and helped pace the North Hall to the best team finish from a county squad in the boys race.

Chestatee wasn’t far behind North Hall in sixth place as a team with 215 points, with Aaron Retana’s runner-up finish in 16:33 leading the way.

Flowery Branch came in right behind the War Eagles at 243, led by T.J. Ramsey’s 24th-place finish in 17:57, while Cherokee Bluff was 18th at 444 behind Parker Snelson (30th, 18:07) and West Hall was 24th at 608 behind a run of 20:13 Brando Araujo.

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