CANTON — As runners gathered Wednesday at Boling Park for the annual Cherokee County Cross Country Championships, the titles were not decided until dusk had crept through the trees.
As the temperature dropped into the 70s by race time, coaches viewed the meet as a good preparation for the upcoming area and region meets.
“I kind of forgot what it felt like to not run in 90-degree weather,” Cherokee coach Rebekah Gay said. “We’ve kind of been slugging through it with everyone else.”
The county meet was the last step before the region and area meets, where teams must run well to qualify for state.
“It’s definitely good preparation for area and region because it’s so close on the calendar, and for us, it’s at the same course,” Etowah coach Garrett Hurlbert said. “(Boling Park) is a fast course, so, mentally, the kids know they’ll either be setting a (personal record) or be close to setting a PR.”
Etowah won the girls championship with a team score of 51 points. Sophomore Makenna Calbert was the individual champion with a time of 18 minutes, 57 seconds — a season best and less than a second over the career best she set as a freshman.
Creekview junior Makena Gates, a two-time defending Class AAAAAA state champion, did not run due to injury, as coaches took precaution to keep her healthy in preparation for the region meet.
River Ridge (70) finished second overall, followed by Woodstock (75), Sequoyah (78), Cherokee (90) and Creekview (119).
After Calbert, Etowah’s Sydney Runyan (19:22), River Ridge’s Paige Ewald (19:40), Cherokee’s Lily Cincola (19:42) and Woodstock’s Ella Bailey (19:53) rounded out the top five individually.
“We weren’t full-strength, but I’m glad we still showed up and produced,” Hurlbert said. “Woodstock ran really well, and River Ridge ran really well, too, so it was still a fight. I looked at the numbers and we had 84 percent of our girl runners either set their season best or finish within 10 seconds of their season best. The good thing is I feel like we’re starting to peak right now.”
On the boys side, Cherokee took home the title with 44 points. Junior Dominick Delillo won the individual championship with a time of 16:49, while teammate Taylor Kendrick (17:00) was fourth.
Creekview (60) finished second as a team, followed by Woodstock (86), Etowah (92), River Ridge (95) and Sequoyah (128).
River Ridge’s Rylan Haskett (16:55) and David Crow (16:58) were second and third, respectively, while Creekview’s Bryson Gates (17:04) rounded out the top five.
As the meet host, Gay announced the names of the top teams and finalists while awarding medals and trophies. She had the opportunity to announce the final award of the evening when the Cherokee boys team walked up to pick up its trophy.
“I am one proud mom,” Gay said. “They have worked their tails off. We’ve been injured, we’ve been sick, but when we met before the meet tonight, I told them, ‘If you want it, go get it. It’s yours.’
“Most of this group has been with me for three or four years. I knew they had it in them, but the question is, can we stay healthy? We had kids grow this year, and we’ve also had some surprises, but I’m just proud they did it tonight.”