Returning award winners set to anchor Gordon Lee cross country

Seniors Taylor Hunley, Ian Goodwin and Gracie O’Neal will be leaders for the Gordon Lee cross country team in 2019. Not pictured is Asia Underwood.

The Gordon Lee High School cross country teams have been right near the top of the Class 1A Public School classification for the past few years now and things shouldn’t be much different in 2019.

Both the Trojans and Lady Trojans have some of the top runners in the classification and have designs on earning area championships and getting back on the podium at state in November.

“Naturally, the goal is to win region again,” head coach Nathan Burns said. “The girls slipped a little last year, so we hope we can get them back into first place in the area standings and hopefully our guys can pull it out again. When state hits, you never really know. There always seems to be a darkhorse team somewhere, so hopefully we can pull it all together.”

Of course, any discussion of the Lady Trojans begins with Gracie O’Neal. The senior, who is being recruited by more than a few big names schools, has won two consecutive individual state titles. Last year, she completed a tough Carrollton course in 20:56 to cap a year that also saw her win at the Walker County Championships (19:37) and the area championships (19:46). She had a season-best 19:22 at the Ridge Ferry Invitational.

O’Neal is already off to a flying start this season as she ran an 18:44 to finish third overall at Ridge Ferry just a couple of weeks ago.

“It’s great to have Gracie back,” Burns said. “I hate that it’s her last year, but she’s a fantastic girl and very hard-working, so we’re looking forward to another great season with her. I don’t expect anything but first place out of her, just like she doesn’t expect anything less either.

“Around her we have a lot of new faces. We’ve got lots of younger girls, so that’s a good sign for the future. They are all working hard and so far they have improved and gotten better in each race, which is what we’re looking for.”

The other seniors are Taylor Hunley and Asia Underwood. A member of the Gordon Lee track squad in the spring, this will be Underwood’s first time running cross-country, while Hunley had the third-best average on the team last season. That included a fourth-place finish at the Walker County Championships, an eighth-place finish at the area championships (with a season-best 24:15) and a Top 20 finish at state.

The rest of the Lady Trojans’ roster includes junior Emilie Eldridge, who ran some for the varsity team late last fall, while freshman Haley Hartman, Olivia Rodgers, Cora Fehr and Rayne Williams round things out. Hartman ran some JV races for Gordon Lee as an eighth grader.

On the boys’ side, the lone senior will be Ian Goodwin, who joined O’Neal in sweeping Walker County Cross Country Runner of the Year honors for Gordon Lee in 2018.

Goodwin set a new school record at Ridge Ferry last year as he finished fourth overall with a time of 16:39. He ran a 16:52 to win the Walker County Championships and a 17:22 to win the area title. He went on to post an 18:45 at the state meet, good enough for sixth place overall. Behind him is junior Jake Lee, who averaged 18:43 a year ago. Lee turned in a season-best 17:47 at the county championships. He was the area runner-up (18:06) and placed fifth at state (18:43).

“I’m glad Ian is back out here after battling a couple of injuries last year,” Burns said. “He’s feeling better and working hard. He’s also still improving, which is great. Jake also worked really hard over the summer and put in a lot of hours and miles and it’s already showing early in the season.”

As of now, the rest of the lineup includes sophomore Carter Pullen, who ran last year, and Carson Carpenter, a solid-looking incoming freshman. A pair of eighth graders, Walker Johnston and Nason Deaux are also training with the high school team, but are only eligible to run JV races. Therefore, Burns is still is looking for a fifth runner to fill out the boys’ roster.

“Everyone is working hard, so we just have to keep everyone healthy and hopefully everybody will get faster as we go along,” he added.

Scott Herpst is sports editor for the Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga., and Catoosa County News in Ringgold, Ga.

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