Staff Photo: John Bohn Runner of the Year Caroline Kissel of Brookwood cross country. Kissel placed fifth in the Class AAAAA cross country state meet and led Brookwood to a third-place finish.
There she was, less than a mile from finishing her final cross country race.
Caroline Kissel was in a pack of runners battling for 15th place at the Class AAAAA state meet.
For years the Brookwood senior had trained to be one of the state's top runners. She had a goal to finish in the top 10, but as the 1,000 meter mark approacehed, Kissel was was battling for 15th place.
Then Kissel, who is also a standout distance track runner, turned on the speed and determination. She closed the ground on the next 10 spots and finished fifth at the state meet.
"She kind of has a habit of pushing that last 1,000 meters," Brookwood coach Chris Carter said. "She showed her patience and mental toughness and when she felt good she made a move."
For the Daily Post's Runner of the Year, it was a fitting way for her to end her cross country career.
"It was my senior year, so I wanted to make the best of it," Kissel said. "I think I accomplished a lot."
Kissel will go down as one of the greatest runners to ever come through Brookwood and that's saying something considering the Broncos' storied history. Her time of 19 minutes, 16 seconds at the state meet is the fastest by a Brookwood runner on the Carrollton state course. She also holds the third and fourth fastest times as a sophomore and junior, respectively. Her fifth-place finish is the highest by a Brookwood runner since Nicole Demarco in 2003.
"It's a really good honor. With Brookwood's tradition, to be considered one of them, it's a really nice honor," Kissel said. "Hopefully, years from now people will still remember me in that way."
Brookwood doesn't keep official all-time records, but her time of 18:27 at the Great American Cross County Festival is considered one of the fastest ever by a Brookwood runner.
"We'd been looking for that for a little while," Carter said. "She had that pressure to break 19 and she crushed it. That was her best overall race."
Throw in three top 10 finishes at county, two Region 8-AAAAA championships and four top 25 finishes at state and that's a pretty good individual resume.
"She's going to leave a pretty good legacy," Carter said. "I think with cross country this year, she's won seven region titles including track. That's a pretty impressive thing."
It only gets better with the team accomplishments. The Broncos hadn't won a Region 8 championship since 2004 until Kissel arrived. She led the Broncos to four straight. Even more impressive is the Broncos finished in the top four at the state meet every year, including third this season.
"She's kind of been a big push to getting Brookwood to where they were in the late '80s and early '90s," Carter said.
Kissel grew up playing soccer and joined cross country to stay in shape. She quickly showed promise by breaking the starting lineup on varsity.
Kissel took a stern, no nonsense approach to running. Whatever her coaches asked of her, she did. It was at one of her first races in Tennessee that Carter gave her the idea of an aggressive move. He asked her if she can do it and she said yes and performed it perfectly.
A couple of weeks later at another race he asked her to be in the team's top three. Her reply was an unemotional yes sir, I can and she did.
"She was competitive when she first walked in," Carter said. "She's got high standards and wants to make sure if something bad happens that it doesn't happen again."
Kissel placed 22nd at state that year and had a breakout season as a sophomore. She took third at county and fifth at region, and finished 22nd at state.
Her success continued as a junior with a 10th place finish at county, winning her first region title and placing 15th at state.
Kissel was fourth at county this season and won the Region 8 crown again. But her crowning achievement was the fifth place finish at state.
"All the hard work you put in to cross country, with all the training, you want to put it to good use," Kissel said.
The strong cross country season will hopefully linger to the track season. Kissel has been runner-up in the mile the last two years, a streak she hopes to end in May at the state meet.
Even if she doesn't win a state title, she's still put her mark on Brookwood running program.
"She's definitely one of the major forces behind Brookwood cross country returning to the top of the county and state," Carter said. "She won't take the credit, but she deserves it."