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CROSS COUNTRY: Rome sees improvement at state meet

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CARROLLTON — From the start of the season, Rome cross country coach Luis Goya wanted to see real progress from his team. With young and old runners with plenty of talent, he knew with proper training they could be one of the best in the state.

And with every hill his runners climbed Friday morning in Carrollton, Goya saw that progress materialize.

Rome’s boys finished 12th in the GHSA boys Class 5A state championship race in Carrollton while the girls placed 11th, both major improvements from last season. Senior Sam Pierce led the Wolves by finishing 36th overall, while Nora Bailey took 51st in the girls’ race.

“Last year the boys finished in 24th, this year we cut that in half,” Goya said. “This type of improvement shows what kind of work we’ve put in and where we are headed. I just could not be more proud.”

The course at Carrollton’s city schools complex features 16 hills, a critical grind for any team.

And while Goya often instructs his runners to attack hills, he knew his team would need to conserve energy.

In the boys’ race, Pierce ran alongside his teammate, freshman Patrick Motes, for nearly the entire race. Together, the two motivated each other to not slow down as Pierce finished with in 17:15 and Motes a second later.

Among the Wolves’ top five runners, four finished in the top 100 of the race and with times under 19 minutes. It’s a far cry from 2016, when Pierce was the only runner to accomplish both of those feats.

“Today just makes me incredibly proud,” Pierce said. “This is just a bunch of great, amazing kids. There’s nobody else I’d rather run with.”

While Bailey did not place as well as Pierce and Motes, the Lady Wolves ran as more of a pack, helping score immensely. After Bailey finished 51st with a time of 21:19, Sarah Glick and Janet Hartmann came right behind her in 58th and 63rd place.

Rome was one of only 10 teams in Class 5A to get both its girls and boys in the top 15. And with only two varsity runners graduating, Goya sees Friday’s success as a stepping stone for the future.

“Finishing top-five as a team is a goal, and I think we can get there,” Goya said. “We spent 23 weeks building towards this moment, and we accomplished what I told them. Now we can keep going.”

In the Class-A Private championship Darlington’s girls came in 13th and the boys were 14th. Maggie Hawkins lead the Lady Tigers and finished in 43rd place, while Lawson Blake finished 28th overall for the boys.

Darlington coach Brian Cross understands the amount of youth on his team and believes the race can be used as a lesson for next year.

“I’m just proud of the kids and the way they have worked all season,” Cross said. “It may not have been the times we thought we would have, but we still came out here and competed. And you can’t ask much beyond that.”

Fellow Floyd County teams Armuchee, Model, Pepperell and Coosa compete in the Class AA championships this morning. The boys’ race begins at 8 a.m., while the girls’ race is set for 8:45 a.m.