On one end, you will have a Cartersville program whose boys and girls teams have virtually reserved their places in Carrollton for two decades — 26 straight appearances for the boys, 22 of 24 for the girls.
On the other end will be Emily Sexauer, an Adairsville freshman whose individual appearance marks a significant step forward for a program hoping to write a new chapter under first-year coaches Kristen Martin and John Ford.
Sexauer clinched her state berth last Thursday with a win at the Region 7-AA meet at Georgia Highlands College in Rome, running the race in 21 minutes, 21 seconds to give Adairsville its first state qualifier — team or individual — in years.
“We were thrilled, of course. We expected Emily to do well and knew she had a shot to win, but [to have] a 20-second lead was phenomenal,” said Martin, the Adairsville girls coach, of Sexauer’s win. “Carrie Freshour qualified for state in 2004. She finished 38th with a time of 22:52.59. Emily had a time of 21:21 at region last week. Keep in mind, she is a freshman, so we are beyond impressed with such a time.”
With seven years having elapsed since it last had a state qualifier, Adairsville’s program will gleam a little more Saturday when Sexauer lines up to compete at state.
“It’s definitely made things look up a little bit compared to recent years,” Martin said of Sexauer’s state-qualifying impact on the program. “The kids are excited for what this means for our team, and it has helped everyone’s motivation and enthusiasm overall.”
Sexauer seems to be the kind of runner that makes a coach’s job easier, and Martin spoke of the work ethic she has displayed throughout the season.
“Emily is a multi-sport athlete, so she has trained for a lot of the season on her own. She would run every morning, then practice with [the] volleyball [team] in the afternoons until volleyball season ended,” Martin continued. “The last few weeks, she’s been able to participate in our team runs and drills, and I think it really showed in her performance at the region meet.”
Before the region meet, the fabulous freshman had already compiled a list of worthy accomplishments in her maiden high school season. Sexauer placed behind county champion Ashley Barrera of Woodland at the Bartow County Championship in September. She also finished 15th twice this season — at the 20th annual Ridge Ferry Invitational where she ran a 21:18 and again at the Cass-Cartersville Invitational with a time of 21:45.
Sexauer’s coach thinks her young runner will do well Saturday, a meet for which the Adairsville athlete is rather eager.
“She’s excited, of course, and working hard this week to prepare,” Martin said. “A time of 21:21 would place Emily 25th [based on] last year’s times at the state meet. She has been working hard, so I expect she will finish within the top 25. Of course, we are hoping for top 10 but her recent times leave nothing to be disappointed about, so we will be happy with wherever she finishes. The simple fact that Emily won her region meet and qualified for state is a huge accomplishment in and of itself.”
As Sexauer readies for her first state meet, Cartersville’s boys and girls teams will be making a return trip to Carrollton, where a number of runners competed last year. Roger Herrera, Lawson Crowe, Troy Hickom, Hunter Myrick, Zach Cravey, Talitha Cherer, Elyse Hoganson, Alex Everhart and Kyra Gore were among those who took part in the 2010 state meet.
The Cartersville boys earned third place last Thursday at the Region 7-AAA meet in Ringgold, where Herrera (eighth, 17:24), Hickom (12th, 17:53), Cravey (13th, 17:54), Crowe (18th, 18:05) and Tommy Morrison (31st, 18:47) registered times that led to the team’s score of 83.
Last weekend, Cartersville coach David Matherne called the team’s finish an “upset,” after it came in ahead of Pickens, which got the last qualifying spot in the region. Should the boys near their region performances, they should improve upon their finish last season at state when the top five runners had an average time of 18:52. At region last week, Cartersville’s average was 18:01.
If the boys team pulled off an upset, then the Cartersville girls team’s showing can be best described as improbable. Already without two of their top runners from earlier in the season, the girls team had little room for error with three of the state’s top Class AAA teams, Allatoona, Heritage-Catoosa and Pickens, likely to grab the top three region spots — which they did, in that order.
Cartersville’s girls, however, won what Matherne called “a slugfest” with Dalton, securing their state spot and keeping their region rivals out by a mere five points; Cartersville had 117, Dalton 122.
Dorie Brunzelle (12th, 21:27) led the way for the team, followed by Kirsten Horstman (21st, 22:46), Hoganson (25th, 23:12), Tori Sims (28th, 23:41) and Gore (31st, 23:45). Cartersville’s average time was 22:58. At last year’s state meet, the girls team was 17th with an average time of 23:15. Despite losing a couple of four-year runners from last year’s team, Cartersville’s girls could near that mark again with Brunzelle, a senior, now in the fold — she ran junior varsity in 2010 after transferring from Excel Christian Academy.
Matherne acknowledged that his teams will have their work cut out for them.
“We got a tough task ahead at the state meet because every top team in each region will be there,” he said.
The Class AAA boys meet is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. Saturday followed by the Class AAA girls meet, which has a 1:30 p.m. start. Adairsville’s Sexauer is set to run at 9 a.m., when the Class AA girls meet gets under way.