Photo: Karl L. Moore Mill Creek's Eric Westog leads a large pack of runners early on the course and end up second in the Region 7 AAAAA Cross Country Championship on Saturday at River Green Complex in Duluth.
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DULTUTH -- To say there were a few surprises at the Region 7-AAAAA cross-country meet would be an understatement.
Although a few things happened as expected, including Peachtree Ridge's Josh Brickell winning the boys' race with a time of 15:58, other things didn't go as planned as Norcross' Katherine Yost pulled away from the field halfway into the race, winning with a time of 19:16.
"I wasn't planning to make my move then," Yost said. "I was waiting on (Collins Hills') Chloe (Whitworth) to make her move. I knew I couldn't wait too long, so I made my move."
Yost led Whitworth (the defending state champion) and Peachtree Ridge's Addison Lippitt in a close group halfway through the race, but as soon as she made her move, she stretched her lead to 26 seconds with less than a mile to go.
In the end, Yost easily won the race as Lippitt finished with a time of 19:42. Whitworth (19:56) ended up fourth as North Gwinnett's Courtney Czerniak (19:50) passed her in the end for third place.
"I was surprised by the lead I had," Yost said. "I kept telling myself to not slow down. I know Choloe has a wicked kick at the end, so I wanted to get ahead of her as far as I could."
In the team standings, Peachtree Ridge ended up on top with 37 points, getting a fifth-place finish out of Laurel Wilson (20:09), and seventh and ninth place finishes from Lexi Shy (20:21) and Paige Tucker (20:29). Gabby Ruddy (20:38) rounded out the Lions' scoring with a 14th-place finish.
Collins Hill finished second with 51 points, using top-10 finishes by Whitworth, Mariah Maring (20:23) and Monique Bennett (20:29) to do so.
North Gwinnett (55) and Mill Creek (93) rounded out the top five, as Norcross missed the all-important fourth place with 97 points. Although the Hawks had no runners in the top 10, they earned a trip to the state meet by placing all five of their scoring runners between 15th and 21st places, with Lauren Hovis (20:43) leading the way.
In the boys' race, Brickell was paced by Mill Creek's Eric Westog and Mitch Flammang, as well as teammate Kevin Mills. But with three-quarters of a mile to go, Brickell made his move.
"I knew I needed to go then," Brickell said. "I tried to push their pace a little bit so that at the end I could pull away."
And he did as he finished seven seconds ahead of Westog (16:05) and 12 seconds ahead of Flammang (16:10).
Norcross' Arman Rehmann (16:21) passed Mills (16:21) at the end to take fourth place, while Collins Hill's Justin Phillip (16:22) was sixth.
On the team side of things, Mill Creek (49) held onto first place, beating Norcross by two points. That two-point win almost didn't happen until the final stretch when No. 5 runner Tajay Hoppiness (16:58) passed Norcross' Jordan Herbert (16:59) to take home 16th place. Had Herbert held on, the teams would have tied and Norcross would have taken home the region crown with its No. 6 runner finishing ahead of Mill Creek's No. 6.
"That's our first region team title in school history," said Mill Creek boys' head coach Andy Christie. "(Tajay) passed their No. 5 on the final straightaway and that turned out to be huge. But, a lot of credit goes to Mitch because he had the best race of his career. Overall, it was a great team race by our guys."
Collins Hill finished third with 66 points, led by Phillip and ninth-place finisher Jonathan Moses (16:32). Brickell and Mills paced the Lions to a fourth-place team finish with 74 points.