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Willette finishes strong freshman campaign as top local finisher in state meet

The Region 2-AAAAAA champion Rockdale boy’s cross country team. Front Row (L to R): Myles Matthews, Logan Hull, Jonathan Butler Back Row (L to R): Coach John Butler, Patrick Massie, Dax Willette, Sulaimane Bangura, Kevin Mendez, Head Coach Jeff Spotts

The Region 2-AAAAAA champion Rockdale boy’s cross country team. Front Row (L to R): Myles Matthews, Logan Hull, Jonathan Butler Back Row (L to R): Coach John Butler, Patrick Massie, Dax Willette, Sulaimane Bangura, Kevin Mendez, Head Coach Jeff Spotts

Dax Willette capped an impressive debut high school cross country season with a solid showing at the Class AAAAAA state meet last weekend. The Rockdale freshman ran in 17:29.50 to finish 37th in the Class AAAAAA boy’s race, helping the Bulldogs places 21st as a team.

Willette, who was coming off an individual championship in the Region 2-AAAAAA meet, had the third-best time among freshmen in the state’s highest classification, trailing only Ben Patterson of Marietta, who was 20th at 17:10.43, and Walton’s Andrew Singh (23rd, 17:15.02).

“We all knew Dax was going to be good, but we didn’t know he was going to be this good and this soon,” said Rockdale coach Jeff Spotts. “Freshmen don’t do what Dax has been doing. He has a combination of natural talent and a strong work ethic that’s going to provide him with an accomplished running career in high school and beyond.”

Youthful Rockdale, a region champion for the first time in the program’s history when it captured the 2-AAAAAA crown a week ago, had its next-highest finishers in sophomores Logan Hull, who ran in 18:04.98 for 88th place, and Jonathan Butler (123rd, 18:37.43).

“I’m very excited for the team and the future of the program,” Spotts said. “In two years we’ve gone from worst in the region to region champions. We’ve got a strong foundation now that will hopefully be the basis for a successful team for many years. We lost a couple of talented runners during the season, but our core was able to step up and make sure we didn’t miss a beat. We won’t be losing any seniors for next year, so we’re looking to ride this year’s momentum and build a stronger, deeper team in 2014.”

In the Class AAAAAA girl’s race, Newton and Rockdale finished 29th and 30th, respectively. The top local finishers for Newton were Maiya Newton (176th, 24:38.58) and Riara Santos (177th, 24:39.96), and for Rockdale was Elizabeth Lowe (187th, 25:29.13).

Gwinnett County schools Brookwood and Peachtree Ridge flip-flopped first and second places in both races as Brookwood knocked off Peachtree Ridge in the boy’s race, thanks to runner-up Josh Ingalls (16:19.42), while Peachtree Ridge, led by fifth-place Addison Lippitt (19:27.96), was champion over the Broncos in the girl’s run.