Last year, as a freshman, Allison Craft finished fifth at the Region 6-AAAA Cross Country Championships at Edwards Park in Dalton.
On Tuesday, one year later, fifth place simply wasn't going to cut it.
The Heritage sophomore bolted out to the lead right from the starting line, quickly put some distance between herself and the rest of the field and never looked back as she clocked in at 20:48 - her second-fastest time of the season - and won her first region championship by 50 seconds over Gilmer's Naomi Coombs.
"It feels really good," Craft said. "Coming here last year and getting fifth, today was a good step up from that. My parents we're really pushing for it the whole year. They told me if I just worked hard all year that I could get first. I just had to believe it."
"Allison has been pretty dominant all season in the league and looking at her times, we knew she could do it," Heritage head coach Jeremy Wynne said. "There were a couple of other girls in striking distance, based on their times, but once they got to that first mile (marker), I knew nobody was catching her."
Craft was one of three Lady Generals in the top nine and one of five in the top 15 as they captured the region title with 47 points. Northwest Whitfield (63) edged out Gilmer (64) for the runner-up spot, while Southeast Whitfield (84) picked up the fourth and final state berth. Pickens (115), Ridgeland (147) and LaFayette (170) rounded out the field.
"We came up short last year, so we just tried to regroup and get our girls ready for this year, mentally, emotionally and physically," Wynne added. "They all stepped up today. Not everyone ran their best race, but we had a couple that filled in the gaps. It was a good day and I'm really proud of them."
Craft was joined on the All-Region first team by teammates Kalei Howard (23:05, eighth place) and Lilly Black (23:13, ninth place), while second team honors were picked up by Lucy Hicks (23:43, 14th) and Skye Remko (23:47, 15th). The rest of the lineup included Emma Tennyson (24:33) and Morgan Easley (24:46).
Macie Boren was the top finisher for Ridgeland with a 24:42, while Mary Scott (25:46), Sydney Finch (26:12), Trinity Deane (26:13) and Emily Scott (26:35) also competed for the Lady Panthers.
LaFayette was paced by Hannah Dearing's 18th place finish (24:11). Also racing for the Lady Ramblers was Hope McClure (25:53), Natalie Ball (26:44), Caitlyn Watson (28:02), Bianca Rogers (34:11) and Elizabeth Perkins (35:35).
The Heritage boys could not match their female counterparts with a region crown, but the Generals' 59 points were good enough for the runner-up trophy. Pickens (42) claimed the top spot with Gilmer (71) and Southeast (84) earning the other two state championship berths. LaFayette (123), Northwest (143) and Ridgeland (175) rounded out the team standings.
Gavin Chandler was seventh overall at 17:53, while Caleb Boyd's 18:02 was good enough for eighth as both runners made the 6-AAAA first team for the Generals. Ryan Craft (18:20, 11th), Joel Lewis (18:51, 16th) and Dakota Carter (18:56, 17th) were named to the second team, while Davis Justice (19:15) and Luke Shackelford (19:24) filled out the lineup.
"It's a big improvement from the last few years," Wynne said. "We haven't won (the region) since 2015, but I thought back in June that we had what it took to win. It was a little bit of a struggle this year to get them ready, but I'm proud of them for coming down here and getting (region) runner-up."
Southeast's Oscar-Diego Guzman crossed the finish line in 16:51 to claim the individual title. Seth White of Pickens (17:01) was second with Carlos Cruz of Gilmer (17:57) was third.
Fourth place went to LaFayette's Devin Henderson, whose 17:48 is believed to be among the fastest times ever recorded in LaFayette High School history. Head coach Chris O'Neil said that Henderson's time could possibly be a school record, but more research would need to be done to confirm it.
Rounding out the lineup for the Ramblers was Josh Perea (19:21), William Sainthill (19:25), Andrew Long (19:33), Steven Sanford (21:03), Daniel Lopez (22:35) and Trey Henderson (22:36).
Josiah Williams ran a team-best 19:30 for the Panthers, followed by Eliot Jones (19:33), Will Voyles (19:54), Beau Baker (21:02), A.J. Walker (21:24), Kristopher Walker (22:17) and Joseph Brown (23:54).
The state cross country meet will be held at Carrollton High School in early November.