Mari Morales has made her decision. She will be running about 20 miles to the north at Dalton State College. The senior officially put pen to paper at a ceremony in the Calhoun High School Media Center on Thursday, surrounded by friends and family.
“It’s been a long journey,” Morales said. “I’m a first generation (college student), so I know they’re really proud of me.”
Justin Lindsey, the Yellow Jackets cross country head coach, first met Morales on the soccer field, when Lindsey was an assistant coach with the Calhoun boys’ soccer team.
“We watched the girls play quite a bit and I noticed her speed and also her grit on the soccer field and I thought it would transition well to cross country,” Lindsey said. “The next year, she came out and ended up being varsity and has actually been three-time Rome all-area runner throughout her career.”
Lindsey said Morales has grown into a leader during her time at Calhoun High School.
“Her leadership skills have continued to evolve each year and … it was easy to tell she deserved the captain award last year due to her leadership abilities.”
Morales said her fondest memory was winning the regional championship during her senior season at Calhoun High School.
“After losing by a point the year before and getting runner-up, it meant a lot to be able to come out with a win this year,” Morales said.
Lindsey said while on the Jackets’ cross country team, Morales’ positive attitude stands out the most.
“Everything she does is positive, you never see her without a smile,” Lindsey said. “Her attitude actually spreads throughout the team. I think that’s why we had such great success with the girls’ program the past few years sharing that positive attitude.”
Dean Thompson, head cross country coach at Dalton State, echoed Lindsey’s thoughts on Morales’ upbeat attitude.
“The whole positive attitude I think is critical to cross country,” Thompson said. “I think she’ll bring that to the team right away. From a performance standpoint, I think she has a chance to be an impact with us next year. We’ve got a lot of girls who are, talent wise, right in about that same range where Mari is right now.”
Morales mentioned Dalton State’s major appeal was its atmosphere.
“At first, I was set on playing soccer … at Kentucky, but as soon as I met (Coach Thompson) and he met my mom, my mom loved him,” Morales said. “They made me feel like I was at home.”
Morales said she feels a sense of relief now that the recruitment process is over and can focus on finishing out her senior year at CHS on a strong note.
“I’m excited for what’s to come and hopefully I get better with more mileage,” Morales said. “I’ll be close to home so I know I’ll always have support.”