Four of the members of The Daily Tribune News All-County Girls Cross Country Team are freshmen, demonstrating just how valuable they were this year to their respective teams.
The future is indeed bright throughout the county, but as the Bartow County Championship proved, veteran presence still counts for a whole lot and Woodland and Cartersville -- who finished 1-2 at the county meet, respectively -- had two of the best upperclassmen among the local teams.
Even without a high number of state qualifiers -- just one runner and one team made state -- the 2011 season seemed like a good step forward for most local teams. And with just a couple of seniors on the all-county team, the upcoming season could be even better.
Before getting too far ahead, though, here are the all-county runners who delivered some good performances throughout the year.
Ashley Barrera, Woodland junior
Coming off a runner-up finish in the county meet as a sophomore, Barrera clinched her second Bartow County Championship win this year when she clocked in at 22 minutes, 30 seconds at the meet held at Gatewood Park. Her best times in 2011, however, came elsewhere, like at The Dallas Classic (20:41, ninth place), the Ridge Ferry Invitational (season-best 20:23, 10th) and the Asics Invitational (20:28, 21st). In fact, the only other instance where Barrera approached the time she posted at the hilly county meet course came a couple of weeks afterward when, favoring a knee injury, she submitted a time of 22:28 at the Cass-Cartersville Invitational, placing 35th. In her last race of the season, the Woodland junior ran a 21:17 in the Region 7-AAAA meet to finish 29th. Barrera has won county meets with her teammates and individually, but since winning region as a freshman with a personal record time of 19:55, she has not been south of 20 minutes. If healthy throughout next season, Barrera could approach that mark, and she and her mates could return to state with Woodland competing in its new region, 5, and classification, AAAAA.
Emily Sexauer, Adairsville freshman
Sexauer was as precocious as they come during her first high school season, jumping right into the mix as one of the county's best runners. In September, at the Bartow County meet, the Adairsville frosh came in second with a time of 22:58. Her phenomenal season did not end there, of course, with Sexauer winning the Region 7-AA meet at Georgia Highlands College in Rome with a time of 21:21. One week later, she ran an even better time in her first state meet appearance, capitalizing on her strength -- running hills -- to post a PR and school-record time of 20:38 and finish 15th. It was a familiar finish for a runner who never came in lower than 15th in any of her races as a freshman. Some of her other finishes include 15th at the Ridge Ferry Invitational, 21:18; 15th at the Cass-Cartersville Invitational, 21:45; and third at the Georgia Highlands Invitational, 21:22. Of Sexauer, first-year coach Kristen Martin said, "Emily's times and place finishes are impressive enough standing alone, but throw in the fact that she is only a freshman and the wow factor jumps. She trains hard and strives to get better with every race. Winning a race is not enough for her; she wants to win the next one with a better time."
Dorie Brunzelle, Cartersville senior
Anyone who watched last year's junior varsity county meet could probably sense the emergence of Brunzelle coming down the pike. After being relegated to JV meets following her transfer from Excel Christian, Brunzelle -- who won two JV races as a junior, including county -- hit the varsity squad this season and became the No. 1 runner on a state-qualifying Cartersville team. Brunzelle ran a PR at the Region 7-AAA meet, placing 12th with a time of 21:27. Some of her other finishes this year include 78th at the Georgia High School Association State Cross Country Championships, 22:22; 13th at the Cass-Cartersville Invitational, 21:42; 69th at the Jesse Owens Classic, 22:06. In a race after the high school season, Brunzelle had a sub-22 minute time, 21:56, at the Foot Locker South Regionals, placing her 75th.
Savannah Hardin, Cass freshman
Joining a team that already boasted two of the better runners in the county, Hardin showed she can more than hold her own with her teammates and the rest of the best in Bartow. Hardin finished fourth at the county meet, medaling with a time of 24:08. She set a PR in the Region 7-AAAA meet by running a 21:30, which put her in 31st place out of 73 runners. A few other times from Hardin this season were a 22:37 at the Cass-Cartersville invitational, 38th place; a 22:14 at the Ridge Ferry Invitational, 35th place; a 23:02 at The Cartersville Classic at Tellus, 19th; and a 23:16 at the Mercy Invitational, 43rd. The improvement for Hardin came with each passing meet, with her coach David Rawlins acknowledging as much. Much like her Adairsville counterpart, Hardin illustrated how great an impact first-year runners can have on a team.
Melissa Davila, Woodland freshman
More than one school in the county had an impact freshman on its roster, and Davila played her part for Woodland. Adding to a strong top of the lineup with county winner Barrera, Davila's role as the next in line helped Woodland tremendously as the team regained the county championship. Davila medaled in the county meet by finishing fifth in a time of 24:10. In her most impressive race of the year, Davila hit a PR with a 21:42 finish at the Darlington Cross Country Festival, where she came in 20th. Her highest finish of the season was in The Cartersville Classic at Tellus where she ended up 13th with a time of 22:03. Davila ran 21:54 and was 37th at the Region 7-AAAA meet and some of her other finishes include a 21:55 at the Ridge Ferry Invitational, 26th; a 22:21 at the Cass-Cartersville Classic, 30th; and a 22:17 at the Asics Invitational, 102nd.
Savannah Casey, Cass junior
An anchor for the Cass team the last two years, Casey did little to disappoint in 2011. The junior delivered her best race as a prep in the Ridge Ferry Invitational where she ran a PR of 21:48 for 23rd place. At the county meet, Casey came in third as she medaled with a time of 23:39. Her other key times this year came at The Cartersville Classic at Tellus, 22:54, 18th; and at the Mercy Invitational, 22:59, 36th. Casey's times toward the end of the season seemed to spike -- including a 24:51 for 68th at the Region 7-AAAA meet -- suggesting something may have been amiss. That aberration not withstanding, her likely return to form should once again put Cass in the conversation as one of the top contenders at the county meet. And with Cass in an altered Region 7-AAAA for the new classification beginning in 2012, the team could improve its region standing.
Kirsten Horstman, Cartersville freshman
Without arguably its best runner of the last four years -- Lindsay Anderson -- Cartersville needed someone to vie for its No. 1 spot, and early on Horstman looked like the team's best option. That bodes well for Cartersville and the freshman runner. Though Horstman settled into the team's 2-spot by season's end, her performances should lend themselves to bigger and brighter things in 2012. Regarding the recently completed season, however, there was plenty to like from Horstman -- her seventh-place, medal-earning run at the county meet where she outkicked a rival competitor and crossed the line with a time of 24:41, as well as her PR of 22:02 and 12th-place finish at The Cartersville Classic at Tellus. Horstman also ran a 22:32 at the Jesse Owens Classic, 89th; a 22:46 at the Region 7-AAA meet, 21st; and a 22:59 at the GHSA State Cross Country Championships, 102nd. With Brunzelle graduating, Horstman will enter her sophomore year as Cartersville's top returner.
Rachel Mez, Woodland senior
With No. 1 runner Barrera ailing at the Cass-Cartersville Invitational, Mez stepped up for the team with her best race of the season, and her four-year career. She wound up placing 26th with a PR of 22:14. Though Barrera came in as the team's third-best runner that day, Mez's ability to fill in allowed Woodland to slide into fifth place. Mez's season also included a sixth-place finish at the Bartow County Championship, 24:37; a 69th-place finish at the Ridge Ferry Invitational, 23:00; and a 28th-place finish at The Dallas Classic, 23:25. Mez did not race in as many meets as some of her teammates, but the fact that the county champions had this caliber of talent down the lineup said plenty about Woodland in 2011. Mez's impending graduation does, however, mean Woodland will lose some of its depth.
Catie Camron, Woodland sophomore
Helping to alleviate some of the depth Woodland may lose with the graduation of veteran runners will be Camron, a sophomore, who should help form a dynamic combination with Davila down the road. Camron PR'ed in the final race of the 2011 season, the Region 7-AAAA meet, running a 22:14 for a 45th-place finish. She seemed to have an ideal season for a runner getting better at each meet -- save for a few races -- before peaking at region. Camron, who placed 10th at the county meet, ran a 22:53 at the Ridge Ferry Invitational, 49th; a 22:35 at the Darlington Cross Country Festival, 31st; and a 22:21 at the Asics Invitational, 103rd.
Hannah Hood, Cass junior
If not for a late surge by Horstman, Hood would have medaled at the county meet, where she finished eighth. Nevertheless, the junior had a good performance at that meet as well as others during the season. Hood's season-best time came at the Ridge Ferry Invitational where she ran a 22:48 for 46th place. Some of her other times included a 25th-place finish at The Cartersville Classic at Tellus, 23:59; a 44th-place finish at the Cass-Cartersville Invitational, 22:59; and a 52nd-place finish at the Region 7-AAAA meet, 22:53. Part of a talented duo as a sophomore, Hood will go into her final season as a key component of a Cass team that now boasts three stellar runners at the top of its lineup.
Honorable mention: CARTERSVILLE -- Victoria Everhart, Kyra Gore, Elyse Hoganson, Tori Sims; WOODLAND -- Amber Fuller, Erin Marratta, Mallory Warren.