Gwinnett County has always been known for its distance runners. The county has produced a state champion in the 1,600 or 3,200-meter runs every year since 2001 and Collins Hill's Nicky Akande continued that trend this season.
But in the sprint events the county hasn't had much success. Not since Courtney Champion dominated the sprints in the early 2000s has there been a runner from Gwinnett seriously contend for a state title. Grayson's Taren White changed that this season.
Akande and White each won a pair of state championships in their differing events to end their decorated careers, sharing Daily Post Runner of the Year honors.
"You are talking about two of the best in the United States, period," Collins Hill coach Andrew Hudson said. "Anything in Gwinnett County track is absolutely at the highest level. That's the kind of athletes we have in this county."
Akande and White certainly were. Akande won the 800 and 1,600 state championships and was part of a runner-up 1,600 relay team. It was the third state title for Akande this school year after claiming the Class AAAAA cross country state championship in the fall.
"Winning-wise I accomplished my goals, but time-wise I would have liked to have been a little faster," Akande said. "Luckily, I still have nationals and that will give me another opportunity."
A three-year starter for the Eagles, Akande finishes her career with four individual state titles and two runner-up finishes with three team championships and three runner-up finishes in track and cross country.
The Villanova signee reclaimed the 800 championship with a time of 2 minutes, 11.22 seconds after taking second last season.
"After not winning it last year and having that feeling of it being taken away it made me want it so much more," Akande said.
She won the 1,600 with a time of 4:57.04 and both her times rank among the best in the nation this season. It goes with a long list of accomplishments that include being a three-time All-American, a member of four state and county record relay teams and Gatorade cross country runner of the year.
"It would be easy for someone like her that's had some success to not work hard," Hudson said. "Those kinds of people are a dime a dozen. She's really worked hard her entire career."
White had a decorated career highlighted with county and region titles. The only thing missing was a state championship. After running the 100 and 200 for three years, she switched to the 200 and 400 and had tremendous success on the way to the state titles.
"At first I didn't like it, but it was at coach's request," White said. "But once I started having some success I was fine with it."
White ran a low 50-second split in the 1,600 relay at a meet at Georgia Tech when Grayson coach Kristi Rhine decided it was time to put her in the 400.
"It's an awfully tough race, but when she had the success she had she was more willing to try it," Rhine said.
A few weeks later, she competed in the 400 and won the county title. White then won the Class AAAAA state championships in the 200 and 400, becoming the first county sprinter to win titles since Champion in 2004. She also helped Grayson to a 400 relay runner-up finish.
White won the 200 with a time of 23.70 after taking second last year at state and claimed the 400 with a time of 53.78. Her 200 time is No. 6 all-time in the state and the 400 time is a county record and No. 3 all-time in Georgia. Both times rank in the top 15 in the country this season.
"It took four years and I was excited when it finally happened," White said. "I didn't want to leave high school without being a state champion."
What's most shocking about White's success is the limited training she puts into track. A standout basketball player who was Gwinnett's top scorer, she will play for Gulf Coast Community College next season. That left her only a few months of track training.
If basketball doesn't work out and with a little more attention to track, the sky is the limit.
"She just did 53.7 on three months of track training," Rhine said. "What she could do with college training blows your mind. We're talking the Olympics, All-American. She could be very successful."