Caitlin Connell still has several months left in her high school academic and athletic careers, but the Winder-Barrow High School senior has already made a decision about her future.
Connell has made a verbal committment to attend North Georgia College & State Univeristy on a cross country scholarship. The WBHS standout, who helped the Lady Bulldoggs to four consecutive region championships, was recently named the top female runner for Northeast Georgia for the 2012 season.
“I think North Georgia is a great fit for Caitlin,” WBHS cross country coach Michael Lofton said. “She will go in and be in the middle of the mix. That will push her to be a more competitive collegiate runner.”
Choosing the right fit at the collegiate level is important for any high school athlete, Lofton said.
“I didn’t want to see her go in and the No. 1 runner right off,” Lofton said. “Also, I didn’t want her to go in and struggle to make the team. It’s all about picking the right place for you as an athlete and a student.”
Connell’s accomplishments at the high school level are lengthy. She has been running cross country since middle school, where she was also coached by Lofton.
During her freshman season, Connell was 11th in the state as the team took third place overall. Individually, she was third at region her freshman season, setting the stage for a sign of things to come in her career.
As a sophomore, Connell was fourth at region and then finished second as a junior. This past fall, Connell won the region title and helped WBHS win region yet again as a team. She set a personal best of 19:22 at region this season.
Connell is a four-time All-Area runner for Northeast Georgia and won four races during her senior season. She also placed in the top 10 in 8-of-11 races this fall and finished fifth at the state meet.
Lofton realizes he and coach Amanda Partee-Manders faces a challenge next year once Connell graduates.
“I never say I’ll replace anybody,” Lofton said. “The only thing I can hope to do is find someone who mimics what our previous runners do. We will go out and try to find runners with an athletic build and with endurance.”