The Dalton State College Roadrunners cross country team defended their title in the Middle Georgia Invitational in Macon on Saturday. In a meet that included two conference foes (host Middle Georgia and Brewton-Parker), they took five of the top eight places to form a huge gap between them and the second-place team.
The Roadrunner team, and indeed the entire field, was led by freshman Riley Jo Ford from Marlette High School in the small town of Caro, Michigan. Running in her first-ever collegiate meet, she took the lead in the first 32 feet and no one was ever close. For Ford, it was her first-ever team victory, making the individual win part of a great package to go along with her first collegiate medal.
Junior Alex Gass of Ringgold followed her breakout sophomore season with another solid effort and the best time she has ever run on the difficult course. She came home in fourth place overall.
Behind Gass in fifth place was sophomore Kate Roberts, who had one of her best efforts finishing third on the team. She had never finished higher than sixth on the team in prior contests. Roberts is from Dalton and graduated from Northwest Whitfield High School.
Just behind Roberts was senior Kay Vradenburgh of Chattanooga. After finishing fourth in this race for the last two years in a row, she settled for a sixth place finish overall this year, making her the only Roadrunner on the team to finish all three years in the top 10.
Rounding out the scoring and the awards ceremony for the Roadrunners was freshman Kayla Mattox of Ringgold. She finished eighth overall, leaving the ladies with two freshmen in the scoring for the winning team.
Finishing just outside the scoring and the awards in 11th place was sophomore Rebecca Poe.
The competing ladies stepped up and ran a great race despite the fact that last year's Freshman of the Year, Kathryn Vradenburgh, and University of North Georgia transfer Haley Tillery were held out of the meet for minor injuries. Also, junior Rachel Ward, a consistent top-5 scorer for the last two years, started the race, but was unable to finish.
"Overall, I was excited to see how we did despite not having two great runners in the race and one who is struggling to get healthy enough to compete at the level she has always displayed in the past," coach Dean Thompson said. "Kathryn will be back to fight with Riley over that number one spot, Haley will get herself on course soon, and Rachel will get back to where she belongs. These three ladies have a ton of heart and fight. They will all be there when it really counts. I feel like things are going to come together and we will see some much greater things from this bunch this season."
The Lady Roadrunners host teams at their home course at the Grove Level Running Trail in Dalton on Friday, Sept. 18., at 6:30 p.m.