Photo Illustration: Brendan Sullivan/Nicole Puckett
Katherine Yost's biggest supporter is her grandmother, after whom she was named.
Like any good grandparent, she gives her granddaughter advice. Some of the best has been about driving.
"When she was teaching me how to drive, (she said) if it turns yellow speed up. That's the best thing," Yost said with a laugh.
Well, it might not be the safest advice when it comes to driving. But on the cross country course, it's a mantra Yost can use this season.
The Norcross senior has quickly emerged as one of the state's top runners. After an 11th-place finish at state last year, Yost returns as a title contender this fall.
"To be perfectly honest, I'm really looking for her to continue to be consistent and work hard," Norcross coach John Williams said. "I am not putting any expectations on her. If she comes to practice every day and works hard, she has no limits."
It was Williams who discovered Yost's talent for running two years ago. Yost was running on her own around the track in the spring of 2010. Williams, who was also the head track coach, spotted Yost and convinced her to come out for cross country that fall.
"It's kind of changed my whole life. It's lucky," Yost said.
An avid tennis player, Yost was reluctant to give up the family sport of tennis for running.
"The first year was hard. I didn't even know if I wanted to do it," Yost said. "I came out one time in the summer and I quit. I came back to try it out. I was going to do just to get in shape for tennis, but I realized I was better at running and I quit tennis all together. I think it was a good idea. My legs hurt, but I think it will be worth it in the end."
Yost burst on the scene with a runner-up finish at the Gwinnett County Championships that year. She led for nearly the entire race before being edged out in the final few hundred meters. Yost finished the season by taking second at the Region 7-AAAAA meet and was seventh at the state meet.
"Her upside is she's not been running long," Williams said. "She doesn't have the mileage of most kids."
Yost proved her sophomore year was no fluke last fall. She was once again one of the state's top runners, battling in the tough Region 7-AAAAA. She was second at county again, where she set a personal record of 18 minutes, 44.28 seconds, and won the region title. Yost finished the year by placing 11th at state.
The top runners in the county Yost has battled the last two years have graduated, making her the favorite this fall.
"I feel like it, yeah," Yost said. "It was (Lauren) Kelly, Chloe (Whitworth), (Caroline) Kissel. Those are the people I needed to watch out for and now they are gone."
In just two years of running, Yost has become the most successful runner in Norcross' 50-year history. She holds the school record in the 5K, the mile (5:07) and two-mile (10:58).
"She hasn't been running very long," Williams said. "She's taken the cross country program and made it fun."
She's had success at the county and region level, but still is missing that impressive run at state.
"I think I can win county and I can win region," Yost said. "I have a couple (competitors) left that are right next to me. I mean I want to win."
But what about state?
"That's my least favorite run," she said. "I think if I work super hard and try not to get injured, I think I can. I've got seventh and 11th. I want to make top five and that will make me happy."
It would certainly excite her grandmother, who regularly keeps up with her times and results on websites.
"She's my number one fan," Yost said. "She was all about tennis all the time and now she comes to all my races."