CARROLLTON - The Heritage boys cross country team capped off a banner season with a historic achievement in the Class AAAA Boys State Championship on Saturday.
With four runners placing in the top 26, the Patriots chalked up a podium finish in fourth - the best finish ever by the boys squad in school history. Their previous best was sixth last year. The Heritage boys had a team average of 17 minutes, 34.34 seconds in the race.
Heritage senior Jake Hudson matched his pre-meet goal by finishing 10th overall with a time of 16 minutes, 58.92 seconds.
Sophomore Darius Calhoun was 19th in 17:17.53, freshman Brandon Harrison was 20th in 17:19.19 and junior Aaron Worthy was 26th in 17:27.65.
In fact, Heritage was in second behind eventual winner Marist after its first four runners crossed the finish line.
With No. 5 runner Zach Landy out with an injury, the Patriots needed another runner to step up - and junior Andrew Connors did, finishing 102nd overall at 18:48.37.
"Carrollton is ultimately where you are judged (in cross country)," Heritage coach Brian Smith said. "The guys have run the best we've ever seen here. We've got a freshman (Harrison) who has run our freshman record, we've got a senior (Hudson) who is the second guy in Heritage history to go under 17 minutes and our top five tied best average at state (in school history). There's just a lot of things this season that are special and will go down in the history of our program.
"Through our fourth guy, we were second in the meet. And then, Andrew was able to put together a good race and finish just past 100th place and that secured fourth place for us."
The Patriots had a team total of 165 points, which was 81 points in front of fifth-place Hillgrove. Marist took the Class AAAA title with 29 points followed by Alexander (118) and Lakeside-DeKalb (134).
Marist's David Connolly won the individual championship with a time of 16:16.23.
In the Class AAAA girls race, the Lady Patriots showed why they have a bright future, placing 12th overall with three freshmen in their top five.
That effort came just one week after the Heritage girls claimed the fourth and final state berth in the Region 8-AAAA Championship.
Freshman Simone Worthy led the way in 25th with a time of 21:17.23. Freshman Lena Killingsworth (55th, 22:00.30), senior Sarah Hayward (82nd, 22:37.90), freshman Jamara Dye (94th, 23:05.07) and senior Erin Tarr (119th, 23:56.05) rounded out Heritage's top five.
"We're extremely proud of our girls. Across the board, our top six girls ran their personal bests. Some of them dropped 15 to 30 seconds off what they've been doing this season," Smith said. "It was just a great finish for them after clawing and scratching to get into the state meet. Simone ran her personal best and got in the top 25. For a freshman, that's a really good showing."
The Lady Patriots finished with 365 points, only 29 behind 10th-place Hillgrove. Marist won the girls title with 67 followed by Starr's Mill (118), Lakeside-DeKalb (123), Loganville (173) and Lakeside-Evans (180).
The Alcovy cross country squads made their first state meet appearances in school history in the Class AAAA races.
The Alcovy boys placed 24th in the 32-team field with 635 points. Freshman Damontae Ivey posted the Tigers' best time in 91st at 18:42.92.
Joshua Holcombe (119th, 18:59.59), Vincent Bond (125th, 19:02.66), Ahmad Crawford (150th, 19:26.84) and Dakota Papke (183rd, 20:01.84) completed the top five for the Alcovy boys.
The Alcovy girls were 25th out of 29 squads. Senior Tatlin Gammon recorded the Lady Tigers' top time in 84th at 22:44.94.
The rest of the top five for the Alcovy included: Makiala Houseworth (140th, 24:37.78), Rochelle McNally (145th, 24:55.59), TaMarria Hudson (25:34.17) and Matresa Flowers (167th, 26:19.77).
In Class AAAAA, the Newton boys finished 25th in a 30-team field. Senior Raymond Menefee had the Rams' best effort in 120th at 18:13.15.
Tyler Ransom (147th, 18:47.32), Dominique Destafano (156th, 19:00.50), Bradley Johnston (166th, 19:18.12) and Jamal Green (191st, 20:19.88) rounded out the Rams' top five.
In Class AAA, the Eastside girls placed 23rd in a 29-team field. Junior Alle Haynie placed the Lady Eagles by finishing in 112th-place at 23:22.04.
The rest of the Lady Eagles' top five included Melissa Bender (116th, 23:31.44), Blakely Smith (125th, 23:50.01), Chrissie McLemore (161st, 24:51.89) and Tori Hunte (165th, 25:06.70)
Jeff Gillespie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.