Behind some of their best running of the season, the Cartersville girls did just that, edging out Dalton for the final spot at the Region 7-AAA cross country meet. The girls team finished behind three of the top four teams in the state -- champion Allatoona (34), runner-up Heritage-Catoosa (42) and third-place Pickens (66) -- while its 117 points put it ahead of Dalton (122), Gilmer (150), Murray County (192), Southeast Whitfield (235) and Ringgold (242).
"We knew all along it was gonna be a slugfest between us and Dalton. It came down to exactly that," Cartersville coach David Matherne said. "We had so many good performances it's impossible to single out a couple. It's a big group hug. We needed everyone to do what they did."
"This ranks right up there with some of the all-time moments at [an] awards ceremony. We literally didn't know until they announced it," he added. "They were bunched together and our girls really fought for it. I'm proud of 'em."
Dorie Brunzelle turned in a lifetime best performance with a time of 21 minutes, 27 seconds, which yielded 12th place for the senior -- out of 62 runners.
"Dorie Brunzelle ran so smoothly. She never looked like she was in any trouble. Every mile she looked fresh," Matherne said.
Freshman Kirsten Horstman placed 21st with a time of 22:46, and Elyse Hoganson was third on the team, coming in 25th place with a 23:12 -- a half-minute improvement from her previous season best.
"That's the best meet I've seen her run in 20 minutes. She looked fantastic," Matherne added of Hoganson.
Tori Sims passed five people in the last half-mile to earn her 28th-place finish, which came in at 23:41, and Kyra Gore ran a 23:45 for 31st place to make up Cartersville's score. Other runners included Victoria Everhart (23:47, 32nd) and Kaylie West (25:12, 46th).
Cartersville's girls, which lost their top runner at the beginning of the season and another top-five runner prior to the region meet, fought immensely for this year's spot in state.
"I just can't say enough about how excited I am that the girls ran this well. So many times in our past it has not been a question that we would finish in one of those top spots," said Matherne of the girls team, which is making its 22nd state appearance in the last 24 seasons. "This year it was truly a question as to whether we'd be going to Carrollton. ... They accomplished what they set out to do despite those obstacles."
Cartersville's boys also reached their season-long goal, and it did not come with any guarantees either, Matherne acknowledged, as the team will be making its 26th straight state appearance since 1986.
"It was really kind of an upset," he said of Cartersville's third-place finish in front of Pickens. Pickens had finished ahead of Cartersville in its season-opening Pickens Preview while Cartersville returned the favor at the Cass-Cartersville Invitational. "The guys qualifying for the [state] meet was in question too because there were a lot of good teams."
Cartersville's longtime coach figured his team would have to fight for fourth place with a couple of other teams.
"On paper it looked like it would come down to us, Dalton or Heritage getting the last two spots," Matherne said.
Allatoona (25) won the region meet while Dalton (62), Cartersville (83), Pickens (86), Heritage (130), Southeast Whitfield (158), Murray County (191), Ringgold (202), Gilmer (287) and Ridgeland (311) rounded out the rest of the field.
Matherne said the outcome of the meet stands as Cartersville's highlight of the season thus far.
"Our guys, they've done some good things this season but probably nothing this good. We missed out on [the] Georgia Highlands Invitational by a point, which is a good considering there were 20 teams. ... We won county and that was exciting but nothing like this," the coach continued.
Pickens placed its top three runners in second, fifth and 15th.
"That right there should have spelled our doom, but we beat them through the middle of our pack against the middle of their pack," Matherne said. "I give a lot of the credit to the perseverance of the guys. They never backed down."
No. 1 runner Roger Herrera again was the team's "locomotive," Matherne said. Herrera came in eighth, two spots away from qualifying for state individually with his time of 17:24. "I figured Roger would [qualify for state individually], but he just went out at 4:56, [that] was first mile. It was too fast; he was [in] second place [after the first mile]."
Troy Hickom had his highest finish of the season on the team, placing 12th with a time of 17:53. "He had a kick like he was Superman," Matherne said. "He's never finished second on our team, at least not this year."
After those two runners, Zach Cravey (17:54, 13th), Lawson Crowe (18:05, 18th) and Tommy Morrison (18:47, 31st) comprised Cartersville's score. Also running for the team were Hunter Myrick (19:11, 39th) and Tanner Davis (19:51, 46th).
In the junior varsity races Cartersville had a few runners put themselves among the team's top seven, meaning they will get to run at state on Saturday.
In the girls' JV race Thursday, Alex Everhart ran a 24:48, making her the seventh varsity runner and moving West to the alternate position. Hallie Wachsmuth, an Excel Christian transfer, actually ran the best time amongst the JV girls with a 23:51 but is sitting out varsity competition this season due to transfer rules.
Other JV girls runners for Cartersville included Madison Fears (26:06), McKayla Fears (26:33), Victoria Hickom (26:43) and Emily Quinn (26:56).
On the boys' side, Ethan Alexander bumped himself into the top seven with 11th-place producing time of 19:12. Freshman Celeb Jenkins finished 14th in a time of 19:19 and will serve as an alternate. Daniel Nally (19:20, 15th), Noah Harper (19:23, 18th), Tad Wilson (20:09, 33rd) and Carlos Stephenson (20:28, 44th) also ran for Cartersville in the boys' JV race. There were 175 runners total.
Of his boys JV team, Matherne said, "That team right there, that's a JV team that's as good as a lot of varsity teams. ... They don't think of themselves as a JV ... They really run hard."
Both teams performed well and the coach said expectations are just as high for JV as it is for varsity.
"We take our JV running seriously. That's tomorrow's varsity so those guys are not overlooked," Matherne said. "I'm really fortunate to coach some good guys and girls."
The GHSA state meet will be held at Carrollton High, and Matherne expects it to be quite competitive with each of the regions bringing their best representatives.
"We got a tough task ahead at the state meet because every top team in each region will be there," he said.
Cartersville, a Class AAA team, will run in the afternoon, Matherne confirmed.