Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Wesleyan head cross country coach Chad McDaniel hugs Caroline Reed after she finishes running the Class AA state championship on Saturday. The Wolves' girl's team won the title. Reed was the top finisher.
CARROLLTON -- The expected Battle of the Titans in the Class AA boys and girls state cross county meet not only lived up to its billing, but also produced a split decision.
While five-time defending champions (four at Class AA) Westminster ended the three-year reign of Class A state champion Wesleyan in the boys race by just eight points, the girls race was a reversal of fortune.
A 2-3 finish by Caroline Reed and Ellie Bradach helped the Wolves to dethrone the three-time defending champion Wildcats by 10, and claim Wesleyan's first girls state title since 2003.
"It was a heck of a race," Wesleyan coach Chad McDaniel said of his girls' victory. "We've had a ton of adversity this year. We've had girls battling injuries, iron deficiencies. You name it, we've faced it. But they have faced that challenge not with a selfish attitude about me. ... They focused on their team."
And while the big finishes by Reed, who was the runner up in the race behind champion Emma Garrison of Union County with a time of 20:10.96, and Bradach, who was third at 20:30.04, Wesleyan's win Saturday was a true team effort.
And it needed to be, because Westminster was nearly as impressive, placing six runners in the top 14, led by Charlotte Folinus' fourth-place finish in 20:38.25.
However, the Wolves banded together, even when five Wildcat runners ran off to a big early start and taking up the next five spots behind Garrison through roughly the first half of the race.
But near the two-mile mark, Reed, Bradach and the rest of the Wolves began to make their move.
"We're always told to race smart in the beginning and not to let the adrenaline of the race get in the way," Reed said. "A lot of times, girls go out too fast, and they die. We knew (Westminster) couldn't keep that (pace) up."
That strategy paid off, as Reed and Bradach not only passed enough runners for their 2-3 finish, but four other Wolves moved up into the top 13 to match Westminster's consistency, led by top-10 finishers Jordan Zimmerman (seventh, 20:59.41) and Taylor Panther (eighth, 21:00.01) to gain a final score of 31 points, 10 better than the Wildcats' total of 41.
In the boys battle for supremacy between programs that have dominated the smaller classifications for years, but were thrown into the same class this year, it was Westminster that came out on top, but not without a fight.
Wesleyan played four runners among the top 11 individual finishers, led by Austin Schanen, who placed sixth at 17:55.63.
But Westminster did the Wolves one better by placing five runners in the top 13, paced by Jordan Flowers' fourth-place finish in 17:49.90 to claim its sixth straight state title with 39 points to edge Wesleyan's total of 47.
"It was a heck of an effort," McDaniel said of the boys race. "We had a lot of reversals in the last half-mile where we picked up spots. (Westminster) just had a little bit more than us (Saturday)."
Greater Atlanta Christian also held their own in both boys and girls races Saturday.
The Spartans got solid runs from Ben Hensley (60th, 19:41.53) and Jake Shumard (61st, 19:45.69) to place 12th overall in the boys race with 366 points.
GAC's girls wound up 15th at 473 after Catherine Mainous placed 90th with a time of 25:55.93.
Among Gwinnett's other smaller classification teams, Buford's boys turned in the best finish by placing 10th in Class AAA with 306 points, with Josh Thompson setting the pace by placing 34th in a time of 18:11.47.
Meanwhile in Class AAAA, Lanier made its state meet debut, with the girls placing an impressive 13th place with 366 points behind Marly Alcide's 46th place finish at 22:37.28, while the Longhorn boys wound up 24th with 559, led by Ervin Martinez (37th, 18:08.86.