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11/01/2022 by Jay Holder

The Starting Line

McGarity, Latham named All-Metro Runners of the Year

A junior from Harrison High School and a Marist School sophomore were named Runners of the Year at the Powerade All-Metro Cross Country Awards on November 17, held in the Stave Room in Midtown Atlanta.

Samantha McGarity of Harrison, the GHSA 7A state champion, and Tommy Latham, the GHSA 6A state champion, received the year's top honors among the 42 high school runners named to the first, second and third teams at the annual banquet, hosted by Atlanta Track Club. The event - featuring food trucks serving ice cream, donuts and tacos - also honored area coaches whose teams won state championships.

McGarity turned in a dominant performance at the state meet in Carrollton earlier this month, where she won by 40 seconds and posted the fastest time of any girl across the state's nine classifications. McGarity, whose award was announced via video by 2021 NCAA Cross Country Champion Whittni Morgan, also won her regional title as well as the Cobb County Championship this season.

"My coach prepares us really well. We train a lot for hills," said McGarity of her back-to-back titles at the Carrollton state meet course.

McGarity's state meet race was also named the 2022 Performance of the Year. It was one of five performances posted on 11Alive.com and open to a public vote.

Also named to the girls' first team were Palmer Walstad (Westminster), Hannah Schemmel (St. Pius X), Ruby Little (Marist), Maddie Jones (Marietta), Carmel Yonas (South Forsyth) and Claire Shelton (Dunwoody).

Latham, the boys Runner of the Year, also capped off his season with a thrilling performance at the state meet, where he was the only underclassman in the top 5, winning by 24 seconds. Latham also won the regional title this year, and his second-place time of 14:56.81 at the Coach Wood Invitational last month was the second-fastest by any Georgia runner in 2022. His award was announced via video by 2021 NCAA Cross Country Champion Conner Mantz, the first American finisher at both the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race and the Bank of America Chicago Marathon this year.

"The most important thing about Marist team culture is there is a group of 30 of us. It's not just seven or five, whatever it takes to get a team on the results," said Latham. "We all know what it means to have success and if any one of us has success it's a celebration."

The #2 boy on the first team was Joe Sapone, a senior at Holy Innocents' Episcopal School. He and Latham - obviously friends as well as rivals - sat together during the event, waiting to see who would get the top honor. Their proximity was fitting, given that the two had nearly identical seasons: Sapone outleaned Latham at the Coach Wood Invitational and soundly defeated him at the Wingfoot XC Classic, but a bout of the flu spoiled Sapone's bid for a state title on a day when Latham ran a rare 16-minute race on the challenging Carrollton course to win the 6A title.

On stage after their names were called, the two shook hands; afterward, they shared a hug.

The five other boys named to the first team were Alex Arrambide (East Forsyth), Taylor Wade (Whitefield), Diego Santiago (Chattahoochee Hills), Jared Fortenberry (Marietta) and Dru Moore (Etowah).

First teams are ranked as a traditional cross country team by performance, while the second and third teams are ranked alphabetically.

Athletes are selected by their performance at the state meet, a season overview and performances in major meets against other All-Metro contenders. This year's group of 21 boys and 21 girls includes runners from 26 schools and eight counties. It also boasts eight runners who won state titles at the GHSA State Championship Meet.

The eight coaches honored were: Jack Coleman, Marietta High School (7A); Matthew McMurray, Marist School (6A); Mary Southern, Decatur High School (5A); Jolie Cunningham, Pace Academy (4A); Chad McDaniel, Wesleyan School (3A); Logan Vaupal, Atlanta Classical Academy (1A-Div 2); Nicholas Cluster, North Atlanta High School (6A) and Joe Tribble, Westminster School (4A).

Held annually since 1965 and founded by Atlanta Track Club member Hawthorne Wesley, the Powerade All-Metro Cross Country and Track & Field banquets are Atlanta Track Club's longest-standing tradition. In keeping with that tradition, Wesley was again in attendance.

Photos: Paul McPherson