Photo: Larry G. Williams Brookwood's Caroline Kissel finishes first in the 1600 meter run finals at the State Track & Field meet in Albany on Thursday.
ALBANY -- In her words, the curse is broken.
After finishing runner-up the past two years in the state girls Class AAAAA 1,600-meter run, Caroline Kissel admits the trophy, or the lack of it, started to get in her head.
"It felt like a second-place curse," the Brookwood senior said.
Maybe that's why when she crossed the finish line two seconds ahead of runner up and teammate QuanDra Shanks.
"It was a sigh of relief," Kissel said of her first state title in a career filled with region and county accolades aplenty. "It's a great way to break (the curse), my senior year."
Kissel set a new personal best time of 5 minutes, 0.98 seconds in her final high school mile. Her best time before Thursday was 5:04.
Kissel ran a smart race, sticking with her plan of riding with the pack for the first three laps before picking up her pace for the last 500 meters. At the end of the third lap she began to separate and the space only grew over the final 400 meters.
"(The plan) was to just kind of stay behind the top one or two people and let them do the work," Kissel said. "I don't really like leading."
Kissel and Shanks walked arm in arm after the race, both catching their breath and both happy with their results.
"That last lap was so painful, but I knew it was worth it," Kissel said.
It was painful, but she wasn't sprinting across the finish, fighting for a spot. Kissel knew she had space, had felt her lead grow.
"I couldn't hear them right behind me breathing," she said.
The only other Gwinnett runner to place in the Class AAAAA race was Parkview's Sara Brown, who finished fourth in a time of 5:03.63.
In the Class A 3,200 meter race, the best Gwinnett finish was third from Providence's Tayler Tuttle, who fought and clawed the final 100 meters with fourth-place finisher Caroline Reed from Wesleyan. But their respective times of 11:35.04 and 11:35.56 were well short of winner Victoria Coppage of First Presbyterian who finished with a time of 11:08.32, lapping packs runners.
Kissel didn't lap anyone or dominate an entire field. But she did exorcise two years of disappointments and the smile slowly began to grow as she caught her breath.
"It was the best way I could possibly think of ending it," Kissel said, smiling.