ALBANY -- Deerfield-Windsor senior Taylor Withers knew it was his last race.
And he wasn't about to go down without one heck of a fight.
Withers, The Herald's three-time Player of the Year for boys cross country, finished fifth overall at the GISA State Cross Country Championships on Saturday in Macon, placing fifth overall individually -- with a scorching time of 17:03:98 -- to equal the finish he had a year ago as a junior, while also leading the Knights to a sixth-place finish as a team out of 16 programs competing.
Withers' final time not only was the best of his DWS career, but it broke the school record -- the same record he set last season.
"I don't think I had run under 18 (minutes all season), but (Saturday) it just felt relatively easy out there," said Withers, who has been splitting time all season with swimming, which he does year round. "It was a good race, a good finish and a great way to end my senior season."
Withers' No. 2 running mate, Daniel Talley, was the second DWS runner to cross the finish line with a time of 19:14 -- his personal best. And it was a day of PBs for the Knights as Marcus Gouthro and Pete Langstaffs both ran in the 19:50s, and Dallas Knight came in at 20:24.
"We're thrilled. I mean, this was state, so what can you say other than this was the (time to shine) -- and they did," said first-year DWS cross country coach Aly Joslin, who took over for longtime coach Joe Bishop. "We prepared really well, the track was good, the weather was great and we ran better than I could've imagined. We're very pleased."
As for the Lady Knights? Well, they bettered the boys by one spot Saturday, taking fifth overall in coach Cathy Jones' first season at the helm. Like Joslin, Jones took over for Bishop this year and said she felt like the team had a "more than respectable" showing.
"I don't know if this is the best finish in school history. I'd have to talk with Joe," Jones said. "But I do know I'm very happy with how the girls ran and everyone turned in personal best times."
DWS' top runner was Madison Sauls, who took 22nd place overall with a time of 22:18. Carolina Hawkins was right behind her (24th overall, 22:41), followed by Camille Fox (25th, 22:42). Micaela Cuneo came in fourth for Deerfield (23:50) and Courtney Kelson was 5th for the Lady Knights (24:05).
Jones was also happy to see DWS' region -- comprised of state qualifiers Tiftarea, Westfield and Southland -- all finished in the Top 10.
"I think that says a lot about this region when Southland finishes 8th, Tiftarea was 6th and Westfield was 9th," Jones said.
The Lady Raiders' top runner was Tanzy Hogsed, who came across 13th with an impressive time of 21:41.
But the story of the day was Withers, who said he was hoping to shine in his final race. And he did.
"Combined with the fact that I've run this course for five years now and this being my last chance at state, it wasn't hard to give that extra effort," Withers said. "Really, everything just fell into place."