CARROLLTON — When Katherine Law crossed the finish line Friday in Carrollton, there was one overriding emotion.
“Relief,” Law said.
Class AAAA’s top-ranked female runner fended off Marist freshman Ruby Little on the back half of the Carrollton High School course and sprinted to the finish line to win the state title by a three-second margin.
“I’m really not a sprinter at all the end, so for me to win on a sprint like that, it’s never happened before,” Law said.
And now, Law — already a decorated runner with two region titles and a top-10 finish at state — has her state championship.
“It makes me so happy — finally — all this hard work,” Law said. “It’s finally paid off.”
The junior runner became the school’s first female cross country champion on what turned out to be the a historic day overall for Jefferson’s program.
The Jefferson girls’ team — with four runners in the top 13 — finished as state runners-up, marking the highest finish ever in school history.
"They ran amazing," Law said of her teammates. "And that was the main goal — the team."
Jefferson’s girls placed behind powerhouse Marist, but finished in second in commanding fashion by beating third-place North Oconee by 53 points to make history.
Caitlin Schroeder added a top-10 finish, placing 10th, with a time of 21:03.42, while Kiley Powell was close behind, taking 11th with a time of 21:08.47. Sydney Bowles (13th, 21:24.90) and Kate James (27th, 22:58.33) rounded out Jefferson’s runner-up finish.
“I feel like we performed well,” Schroeder said. “Marist is a really strong team, but this is the best we’ve done in a long time, and I’m really happy for our team.”
Going out with a runner-up finish was particularly special for Schroeder, who was running in her final state meet.
“It feels really awesome, especially for my senior year,” said Schroeder, a former region champion who is considering running in college. “It’s my last year, so it’s a great way to end my season here.”
Jefferson coach Timothy Lees noted that the team nearly placed three runners in the top 10 in finishing second.
“My third one was number 11, which was awesome,” he said. “No. 4 was right behind them … On a tough course, they did awesome.”
Meanwhile, the boys team also took home a trophy with a podium finish by placing fourth.
The Dragons who beat Flowery Branch by 11 points for the fourth-place spot, were led by Matthew Schroeder, who finished ninth with a time of 17:23.06. He was followed by Levi Holliday (20th, 18:31.18), Ben Davis (21st, 18:32.63), Brett Brush (39th, 19:00.81) and Brody Woodall (40th, 19:02.30).
Lees praised the boys for their fourth-place showing.
“That was amazing,” Lees said. “They really had to work for that one. Going into it kind of seeded fifth, we knew they were going to have to work for it, and that’s exactly what they did.”
Jefferson’s performance in the state meet capped the program’s first season under Lees, who moved up from the middle school ranks to take over the varsity this year.
“To get two teams on the podium my first year, to have a state champion my first year, it’s amazing,” Lees said. “I’m very grateful.”
CLOSE RACE FOR INDIVIDUAL TITLE
The top two runners in the Class AAAA girls race didn’t disappoint. Law jumped out to an early lead, but Marist’s Little made a strong move in the second half of the race and was running neck-and-neck with Law at the two-mile mark. But Law began to separate from Little with about half a mile remaining and finished off the race just ahead of the freshman.
“She’s an amazing freshman at Marist, one of the best in the state and in the nation,” Law said. “I knew watching race film that she’s a second-half type of runner.”
Law said she felt pressure to win the race as Class AAAA’s top-ranked runner.
“Definitely,” she said. “Especially since there were video cameras before the races. It was a little stressful, but I was trying to put my mind on just the race itself.”
Speaking of stress, Lees said the race was a bit nerve-racking for the coach to watch.
“I told Katherine, I said, ’don’t worry me like that,’” Lees said. “She said, ‘You were worried? I was worried.’ Once she came out on the field right before separation slope, she got the lead, she held the lead. I’m really happy for that.”
The coach said Law becoming the school’s first female state champion “was awesome.”
“I’m very, very happy for her,” Lees said. “I’m proud of her. I’m proud of all of the whole team.”