Collins Hill boys, girls win Wood Invitational in Gainesville

In what was supposed to a be a tune-up for the region and state meet, the Collins Hill cross country team took both the boys and girls titles at the Wood Invitational Saturday at Gainesville College.

The Collins Hill girls dominated the field, placing nine runners in the top 48, led by Amanda Winslow's second place finish. The boys were paced by Philip O'Brien's fourth place finish. The girls had 26 points while the boys tied Lassiter with 105.

"This is about what the state meet is like, with the exception of Parkview and Walton, which are very good teams," O'Brien said. "This is a lot like a state meet. Even South Forsyth is running great. Our coach told us our times would be good, and apparently it worked."

Although O'Brien finished fourth, he was proud of the way his teammates responded.

"It's kind of hard running with two guys away from the team so much, but our fifth and sixth guys have been training so hard," O'Brien said. "Our coach has been telling us it's going to pay off. I guess today it did."

The the girls started the morning making it exciting as Winslow and Chamblee top runner Emily Reese ran neck and neck for the first mile. Reese won the girls meet with a time of 17 minutes, 32 seconds pulling away from Winslow, who finished with a time of 18:07.

The Wood Invitational is the namesake of longtime South Gwinnett head coach Rick Wood, who said he is honored to have his name attached to the event.

"It is a tremendous honor, not just because it's named after me but because of the young men who are putting it on," Wood said. "Danny Monroe and Andy Christie and Josh Crowfoot, they have done so much for high school sports. It's just so exciting.

"This is much bigger than any meet that I ever had to do with. This is not anything that I really did organizing it, it's just me being honored by some really nice young men."

Crowfoot and the two others helping were former runners that were considered top runners in county history.

"Josh's name sticks out a little bigger, but the two men Daniel Monroe and Andy Christie, both of them were outstanding runners and both of them were captains of my teams when I was at South," Wood said.

Now this meet has taken on new meaning as a prelude to the region and state meets.

"This is about what they want to do with their teams, and I see how well they coach" Wood said. "I watch how well they behave and the sportsmanship. That, to me, is probably the most exciting thing. They are tremendous young men. My name is on it, but they've done this meet. This is really their meet."

Schools from all over Georgia and even Austin Black Beans from Decatur, Ala., were in the meet.

Reese was one of two representatives for the girls from Chamblee and Charlie Sparks who finished second in the boys was the lone representative from Columbus. Sparks finished with a time of 15:50.

Zack Flickinger of Lassiter won the race with a time of 15:03. Anyan Tyler of Brookwood was the next Gwinnett County runner after O'Brien, finishing seventh with a time of 16:15.

But it was Collins Hill who took home the team titles in both boys and girls.

On the girls side, the Eagles averaged a time of 18:58. Nicky Akande finishing third with a time of 18:41. Nicole Demercurio of North Gwinnett finished fifth with a time of 19:00. Two more Collins Hill runners finished sixth and seventh as Briana Crawford had a time of 19:02 and Allyson McGinty finished with a time of 19:06. Lindsey Ebert of Parkview finished ninth with a time of 19:07.

"This is one of the best meets in the state during the regular season," Collins Hill coach Andrew Hudson said. "This has become probably the premier event in Georgia. Berry is probably the biggest one up to this point. That's probably the biggest meet of the year but it's still early. In terms of quality it may not have as many runners. All summer those girls trained together. We had some adjustment issues when we started school but they are coming together the way I thought they would and that's really exciting for me."

The Eagles took the boys title with an average time of 16:40.55. Rob Manning finished 10th to get some points for his team with a time of 16:20. Collins Hill had three runners. Austin Hunt, Joe Sokohl and Randyn Williams, finish together at 31st, 32nd and 33rd. The next Gwinnett teams were Brookwood in third, Peachtree Ridge in fifth, Grayson sixth and Mill Creek ninth.

"We got things to work on," Hudson said. "We got two weeks 'til region and that's when we are really ready to go."

On the girls side, it's just a matter of depth.

"They get an advantage that other teams don't have that they have incredible teammates to work with," Hudson said. "They have probably some of the best runners in the state. They all work together on their own team and I think that certainly is an advantage."