One of the most highly decorated athletes at Heritage High School, senior Allison Craft will be taking her talents and drive to Truett-McConnell University this fall to run cross country for the Bears.
A four-time state qualifier, Craft shared Catoosa County Girls' Cross Country Runner of the Year honors as a freshman before winning the award all by herself the past three years.
"It feels good (to have signed), she said. "This gives me a chance to be able to reach the potential that I think I can (reach) and get the times that I want."
Bursting onto the scene as a freshman, she placed fifth at the Region 6-AAAA meet (21:34) and was the Lady Generals' top finisher at the Class AAAA state meet. She followed up with six top 10's, five top threes and a pair of runner-up finishes as a sophomore, going on to win the 6-AAAA individual title (20:48) and capping her year with a top 50 showing at state.
As a junior, she averaged a career-low 21:16 with five more top threes and placed third in the region meet, despite coming down with an illness a few days before the race. Craft went on to run a 21:03 at state, good enough for 22nd place overall.
This past season, she racked up top 10 finishes in nine of 11 races against some of the top runners in the Chattanooga and north Georgia area with five more top threes, including runner-up honors at the 7-AAAA meet (21:13). She set a new personal record of 20:22 on her own home course, was the top Georgia runner in the North Georgia XC League and earned a third straight top three overall league finish.
She capped her cross country career at Heritage with a career-best 21:29 on the tough Carrollton High state course to place 14th overall and helping the Lady Generals to 12th place among the 25 teams in the field.
Her talents also carried over to the spring. The region champion in the 3200 and ninth-best at state in 2019, she recently turned in a personal best of 5:45.49 in the 1600 to place second at the 7-AAAA track championships.
Craft is also a defensive standout in soccer and garnered an All-Region first team nod in 2021. She is the lone senior on a Heritage team that is scheduled to play in the state's Final Four this week. Craft made it to state three times with the Lady Generals, including another Elite Eight appearance in 2019.
Class Vice President in her sophomore, junior and senior years, she is a four-time academic letter recipient and is her school's FBLA Vice President this year, in addition to being a member of the National Honor Society, Beta Club and the National English Honor Society.
Jeremy Wynne, who coached Craft all four seasons in cross country, said she had been "one of the cornerstones of (the) program since she first toed the line four years ago", adding that Craft's work ethic allowed her to become one of the best athletes in the region.
"No one outworked Allison Craft," he said. "Perhaps her most enduring traits were consistency and grit. She never gave less than her best, whether it be a preseason practice or a championship race.
"She always seemed to rise to the occasion and found a way to dig deeper. Allison always seemed to have another gear when the competition was tough and she was always willing to push past the pain, which is a testament to her mental toughness and devotion to the sport."
Craft said she preferred a smaller college and TMU's Christian community and atmosphere made it a perfect fit.
"With the size (of the school), it just feels more like a family," she said. "It's also in a very pretty location."
In addition to her speed and desire to win, Craft said she hoped to be a good influence on her new team.
"I want to bring a positive attitude and just be able to be a teammate and friend to the other girls (on the team)," she added.
Wynne said that Craft set the example for others to follow, adding that she got stronger and tougher with each passing year she ran for Heritage.
"On our team, Allison was the gold standard of excellence, and her legacy will reverberate among younger runners for years to come," he continued. "It's easy to focus on the medals that she earned while (she was) on the team, but what I'll remember most about Allison is the thousands of hard miles that she put in to earn those medals. I'll remember the fact that she never took a day off, and that she was one of the best competitors that I've ever coached.
"I applaud Truett-McConnell for recognizing Allison's great potential as a runner. With solid coaching and development, I know that she'll continue to improve, and I fully expect her to emerge as a leader on their team as well. When she puts on that new uniform and stands on that bigger stage for the first time, I think that Allison will surprise a lot of people, including herself."
Craft plans to major in elementary school education.