Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Brookwood's Holly Gunder, from left, Alyse Renshaw (122), Quandra Shanks (123) and Payton Wilson hoist the Class AAAAAA state championship trophy on Saturday in Carrollton.
CARROLLTON -- After a run of seven straight team championships by Gwinnett County schools, Cobb County's Walton had ruled the state's highest classification at the Girls State Cross Country Meet the past two years.
But Brookwood had plans to dethrone the Queens of the Hill on Saturday at Carrollton High School.
And behind strong top-five finshes from QuanDra Shanks and Payton Wilson, the Broncos did just that, bringing the team title back to Gwinnett -- and giving the program its first state title since 1991 -- with 66 points, outdistancing the defending AAAAA champion Raiders by a comfortable 34-point margin.
"We had five girls in the top 25, and that's pretty good," Brookwood coach Chris Carter said. "I told the girls that if we run like we were capable, we were going to be hard to beat, and that's hard to beat."
It was hard for anyone to beat individual champion Allie Buchalski of Johns Creek (18:46.23) and runner-up Annie Kelly of Milton (18:57.53) who blew past the field from the early stages.
However, Brookwood's steady approach -- with Shanks taking third overall in a time of 19:32.47, followed closely by Wilson in fourth at 19:44.06 -- that proved effective in the team race.
"From the beginning, I knew I wasn't going to go out as fast as (Buchalski or Kelly) because that's not how I run my race," Shanks said. "I just picked it up throughout the race. The last half of the race, I gave it all I had.
"I'm so proud of all of (the team). You couldn't ask for a better team. They did amazing. I'm just proud of all of them."
The day didn't go quite so well for another one of Gwinnett's individual favorites in Norcross' Katherine Yost, but her 11th place finish in 20:23.02 was enough to help the Blue Devils (seventh, 264) join Brookwood and two other Gwinnett teams in the top 10.
Peachtree Ridge placed third with 144 points, led by Addison Lippett (18th, 20:42.18) and Laurel Wilson (20th, 20:44.92), while Mill Creek wound up fifth with 241, paced by Hannah Lopez, who took 19th with a time of 20:44.02.
But Saturday was Brookwood's day, thanks to Shanks, Wilson and fellow top-25 finishers Laurel Sumner (16th 20:37.82), Holly Gunder (22nd, 20:47.90) and Ashley Buda (25th, 20:54.50), who helped Brookwood lead a strong day for Gwinnett.
"It's good to bring the title back (to Brookwood)," Carter said. "I'm happy for the county, too. "I'm glad (the title is) back in the county. I always say, if we can win, I want someone from the county to win it, and I'm glad it's back in Gwinnett."