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Collins Hill sweeps through stage races in Gainesville

OAKWOOD - What does it say when the coach of the best team feels his had a perfect day in the first race of the season? Probably a lot.

In what some felt would be a rebuilding year, Collins Hill girls swept all five stages to win the Walton-Peachtree Ridge Stage races on Saturday at Gainesville State College. While that perfect score wasn't totally surprising, the fact that Collins Hill's boys team completed the sweep may have been. The Eagles were a couple of points behind until senior Rob Manning put up the best time of the day to win the fourth stage and help turn the tide toward the team in green.

"That was a really big race," Phillip O'Brien said, who took second for Collins Hill in the No. 1 race. "I had a chance to watch that race and the coaches told us it would be between Walton (High School) and Parkview and it was just a crazy race. I never saw the Walton kid, and Manning battled with Parkview the whole race.

The Collins Hill senior pulled away and won with a time of 10 minutes, 5 seconds. That time would be better than O'Brien's 10:12 time in the final stage. The two clutch performances by the Collins Hill seniors helped the Eagles to 12 points and their first meet championship since 2005. Walton came in second with 20 points, while Grayson was a surprise in third, led by a fourth-place finish in the final from Kirvbel Erassa. Defending state champion Parkview finished tied for fourth with Etowah at 28 points.

"With Parkview winning this race the last two years, we had our tail tucked between our legs a little bit," Collins Hill head coach Andrew Hudson said. "We probably had a perfect day, which is a little scary to say this time of year. I'm a little flabbergasted. I don't know what else they could have done."

Then there were the Collins Hill girls. The Eagles put up a perfect score for the first time since 2004 - that year was also the last time Collins Hill won both the boys and girls meets.

The only question would be if the Eagles could, in fact, win all five stages. Enter newcomer Amanda Winslow. The junior transfer from Ohio put up what Hudson thought is a course record.

"She was staying in the pack doing exactly what I told her to do and then when she got to that first mile it looked so easy," Hudson said. "I just told her to lay it down. It looked like she was just waiting for me to tell her to go."

It appears the new Collins Hill ace can indeed lay it down. She hit the tape in 11:35, about 10 seconds better than Jackie Drouin's best time two years ago. And she led the Eagles to a few state titles.

"I was waiting on coach to tell me to go," Winslow said. "I was trying to take it easy the first mile, but I felt really good and took off.

Nikki Akande, Allyson McGinty, Brianna Crawford, and Katie Gezon all won their heats. North Gwinnett and Parkview tied for second with 25 points. It's Collins Hill sixth straight win in this event.