Caroline Hood Pace Academy

Pace Academy’s Caroline Hood (No. 2248) has been among the top girls cross country runners in the state this season.

As usual, Northside teams and runners have made their mark on Georgia state high school cross country as the 2021 season reaches the halfway point.

With the state meet in Carrollton (Nov. 5 to 6) clearly in their sights, many of Northside’s finest were on display at the ATC Wingfoot Cross Country Classic in Cartersville Sept. 24 to 25.

Four local defending state champions finished among the top 10 in the championship girls division, with Marist (Class AAAA) winning the team title, Pace Academy (AA) finishing third, St. Pius X (AAAAA) fifth and Westminster (AAA) eighth.

Marist’s Ruby Little won the individual race with a time of 18 minutes, 08.50 seconds, while Pace’s Caroline Hood was runner-up (18:12.30).

In the championship boys team standings, defending AAA champion Westminster finished third and Marist was fourth. Pace and last year’s AAAAA title-holder St. Pius also finished in the top 10 with seventh and eighth-place finishes respectively.

Holy Innocents’ Joe Sapone won the championship boys race with a time of 15:29.60. Sapone was among the three local runners who finished in the top five, with Westminster’s Matthew Fernando placing third (15:37.80) and Pace’s Edward Blaha – the defending AA state boys individual champion – fourth (15:40.50).

For its overall effort in both the boys and girls races, Marist was awarded the ATC Wingfoot Cup, a result that gives Marist coach Matt McMurray even more confidence in his team as it approaches the second half of the season.

“This season, we’ve really emphasized racing intelligently and working together throughout the race,” McMurray said. “We had strong early showings at the Carrollton Invite and Adidas XC Challenge – both meets giving us opportunities to preview the state championship and NXR courses. (On Sept. 24), we brought home the ATC Wingfoot Cup following strong performances by both our boys and girls and it was a special moment for our program. We plan to use this as affirmation we’re doing the right things, but largely as motivation for October and November, where we plan to do our best racing.”

It was also a good day for Pace’s girls team as it builds on its strong start to the 2021 season.

“The girls have stepped up to cover for two girls who graduated out of our top five,” Pace girls coach Jolie Cunningham said. “They have worked hard all summer and right into the season. Girls who were not in our top seven last year are seeing the payoff of their training and they are playing vital roles on the team. Caroline Hood has also seen a dramatic drop in time due to the work that she did all summer and she was able to take down a 30-year old school record, running 18:12 (at the Wingfoot race). We are looking to continue to train, get better, stay healthy and see what the end of the season brings.”

Likewise, Pace boys coach Steve Cunningham is also encouraged about where his team is.

“The boys, led by AA state champion Edward Blaha, continue to work towards another strong finish for the season,” Pace coach Steve Cunningham said. “The top seven (runners) continue to build on their summer training and improve each week as they prepare for region and state races. Grant Thompson has had an outstanding season, running 15:56 at (the) Zack Wansley (Invite in Douglas County Aug. 21) and placing first overall. It’s going to be fun to watch this group of boys who have been together for four years as they finish out their senior season.”

Meanwhile, Westminster appears to be in good shape in its quest to defend both its AAA state boys and girls titles.

“We have a good team this year and we are excited about the second half of the season,” Westminster boys coach Joe Tribble said. “We have run well in some important meets, most recently at the ATC Wingfoot race. A lot can happen, of course, between now and (the state meet). But we believe if we keep our focus in training and racing, Lord willing, we will be where we want to be (at the state meet) Nov. 5.”

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