Since Heritage High School opened its doors a decade ago, consistency has made the Lady Generals’ cross country team one of top teams in the northwest Georgia-Chattanooga area and earned it a spot among the state’s better programs.
For three of its runners, 2017 was all about consistency.
Seniors Alex Gass and Caylee Carpenter were known commodities before the season began, while freshman Allison Craft was just hoping to make an impact in her rookie season with the Navy-and-Red.
But by the time the season had finished, it was hard to separate the trio and today, they are grouped together once more as the Catoosa County Girls’ Co-Runners of the Year.
“It’s been great to watch them develop,” Heritage head coach Jeremy Wynne said of the two seniors. “They are such good kids. They have such giving hearts and they are really selfless. Allison is a good, natural athlete, but what was really cool with her this year is that she gradually evolved into a better and better runner as the year went on.”
Gass was solid for the Lady Generals’ all season long. She turned in an average time of 22:29 with a season-best 21:50 at a race at Pickens. She went on to place eighth at the region meet (22:11) and ran a 23:22 at state.
“This year wasn’t our best in terms of times and stuff like that, but I think we grew closer as a family,” she said. “We really just bonded with each other and I’ll miss the team. Running has helped me a lot and it’s going to help me get into college, but the friendships I have made have been the best part about cross country.”
“Alex received the team’s Legacy Award this year as a reflection of what she has meant to the program for the past four years and she was a captain this year,” Wynne explained. “She kind of set the culture for the program and she’ll be really hard to replace.”
Carpenter, her classmate, averaged 22:30 for the season and clocked in a season-best 21:30 at the Front Runner Championships at Baylor. She ended the season with a ninth-place showing at the 6-AAAA meet (22:13) and crossed the tape in 22:37 at state.
“It was a good year,” said Carpenter, who is also a standout on the soccer field. “We had a lot of fun and it was a really good team. I’ll miss the family atmosphere here. We’re just really close and I’ve made really good friends on this team.”
Gass is planning on running in college at Dalton State, while Carpenter added that she is considering joining the Roadrunners as an option post-high school.
“What I said about Alex and I can really say the same thing about Caylee,” Wynne continued. “She was our co-captain this year and she and Alex kind of came up together. She’s a hard worker and really seems to love the sport. She is also a really solid all-around kid. They are my athletes, but there’s also a friendship there too and it’s been fun to see that develop over the course of the last few years. Their parents have been great supporters of the program as well. Both of them will be missed.”
Craft consistently saw her times drop throughout the 2017 season and she saved her best for last.
A 21:34 at the region meet earned her fifth place overall and served as her fastest time of the year. She followed up that performance by running a 22:37 at state and was the top finisher for the Lady Generals that day in Carrollton. She ended the year with an average time of 22:40.
She also termed 2017 as “a good year”.
“We didn’t do exactly what we wanted, but we put in some really good effort and it was a really positive season,” she explained. “My mom told me I had the ability be able to run with the high school team this year. There’s a lot more people at the high school races, but as the year went on I got used to it. You just have to go out there and concentrate.”
“Coming from running two-mile races in middle school to running 5K’s in high school is a big adjustment,” Wynne said. “She was good at the beginning of the season and she gradually got better to the point where she was one of top runners at the end of the year. But Allison is a really determined kid with a lot of grit and you could see that in practice, so it really wasn’t a surprise by the end of the year.”