Mackenzie Davis, who moved to Albany from Virginia for her senior year, made a big impression right away at Deerfield, where she broke the school record and finished runner-up at the state meet.
ALBANY -- Mackenzie Davis -- like any new student at an unfamiliar school in an unfamiliar town -- wasn't certain of anything the first time she stepped on campus and into the halls of Deerfield-Windsor four months ago.
But when she graduates this spring, she says she's now certain of something: She loves Albany.
"It was hard at first coming into a new school and not knowing anyone or having any friends. I just tried to make the best of it," said Davis, who not only quickly made friends at Deerfield, she gained fans of her athletic ability along the way. "But I've really enjoyed my year here, and I've never felt so invited anywhere in my life. The atmosphere, the community was just so inviting and it was really easy to make friends. I came from a public school in Virginia with 413 kids in my class to a private school at Deerfield where we had 73.
"It was a big change, but a good change, and it's been a really good experience."
Of course, it doesn't hurt that her "experience" included Davis shattering the school's cross country record -- held by current Clemson track & field star and four-time Herald Player of the Year Kelly Conway -- in the process, while also finishing state runner-up in the GISA Class AAA State Championships this past weekend in Macon.
Davis, who broke Conway's record of 19:05 with a personal-best time of 18:43 during her run to the 2-AAA region championship at Southland two weeks ago, finished in second place this past Saturday with a time on 20:10.66 on one of the toughest courses in the state, which features a steep uphill climb during the first mile. She was bested in the 83-runner field by only Augusta Prep's Amanda Murphy (19:47.93), who helped lead Augusta to the overall team state title.
Deerfield, meanwhile -- despite Davis' finish -- came in a disappointing fifth, which was one spot behind rival Southland after DWS beat the Lady Raiders a week earlier for the region title.
"Mackenzie had a great day, but as a team, it's the worst we've done in several years there," said second-year DWS boys and girls coach Cathy Jones, whose boys team finished 12th. "Our No. 2 runner (Camille Fox) was sick, and (our No. 7 runner) Mary McCain Potter suffers from asthma and her time fell after she struggled (after the uphill climb) in the first mile and could never get her pace down. And my boys just weren't very experienced and kind of fell apart.
"It was disappointing after such a great season (that saw both teams win the region titles)."
Davis, however, didn't disappoint. The senior transfer, who came to Deerfield after attending high school at Mountain View in Virginia when her father was reassigned to Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany, wowed Jones from the very first day she saw her run.
"We could see she had the capabilities to be special right away. She's a very determined little girl," Jones said. "I've really never seen someone with her work ethic. She's put in the miles (and now she's reaping the benefits)."
Those benefits, according to Jones, include letters from "every school you can think of," although Davis said she has her eyes set on attending Division I University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
"UNC's my No. 1 choice, but I would have to walk on there, I think. I also like Davidson (which is also in North Carolina) and I know I could run (on a scholarship) there," said Davis, a star student at Deerfield who wants to major in biology.
Davis said she didn't set out to break Conway's school record when she started running for the Lady Knights, but she certainly knew the possibility was there.
"Of course I'd heard of Kelly Conway and all she'd accomplished, but my main focus was just to run a personal-best time, which I did," she said. "Consequently, I broke the record in the process. I've heard she was a great runner and it was good to have that competition pushing me throughout the season."
Davis, who was an all-region and all-district runner in Virginia, admitted she wasn't quite at the level of the elite public school runners in her old hometown, but she knew coming to Albany and running among the GISA ranks she had a great shot to do big things her senior season.
Still, she couldn't quite catch Murphy at state as the speedster from Augusta Prep beat her by roughly 23 seconds.
"I actually led the (3.1-mile) race for the first two miles and had a decent pace going, but she passed me at around two miles," Davis said. "It was back and forth from there, but I didn't have enough left in the end. It was still a great season, and I can't thank coach Jones and my coach back in Virginia (who I talked to regularly) for all their support. They brought the best out in me my final year."
The next-highest finisher for Deerfield was Fox in 17th place (with a time of 22:36.10), followed by Haley Kincheloe (46th place, 25:01.03), Mackenzie Hudson (47th, 25:06.17), Courtney Kelson (56th, 25:36.50), Madison Sauls (64th, 26:15.20) and Potter (66th, 26:31.78).
For the DWS boys, sophomore Marcus Gouthro of the Bahamas was the highest Knights finisher, taking 16th with a time of 19:01.79.
"We're going to hear a lot about Marcus in the years to come," Jones said. "He ran a 23:11 in the first race of the year and he was so mad at himself. He came up to me after and told me, 'Coach, I'm sorry ... that will never happen again.' And he made good on that promise. He has a tremendous amount of potential."
Gouthro was followed by Hadden Kelly (44th, 20:21.37), Fletcher White (77th, 21:53.92), Graham Harpole (87th, 22:43.39), Will Harpole (92nd, 23:11.67), Michael Gutierrez (100th, 24:54.18) and Matt Williams (102nd, 25:07.08).
Augusta Prep also won the boys team title, sweeping the Class AAA championships.
Class AA Boys/Girls
MACON -- Because of the small number of Class A and AA schools with cross country teams, the boys and girls in those classes were all lumped into Class AA this season.
Westwood's girls posted the best finish of any Southwest Georgia school, taking third behind winner Heritage and second-place finisher Covenant.
Virginia Vereen led the Lady Wildcats (7th place overall with a time of 22:51), followed by Morgan Godwin (17th, 24:43), Savannah Jones (21st, 25:03), Claire Collins (24th, 25:16), Merritt Daniels (T-37th, 26:46), Emory Bostick (T-37th, 26:46) and Riley Ford (41st, 27:03).
Westwood's boys were the highest area finishers in 12th place, led by Matthew Hilliard (45th overall with a time of 21:51), and followed by Scott Summerlin (53rd, 22:27), Brandon Butler (62nd, 23:14), Daniel Gay (64th, 23:37), West Rogers (79th, 25:38); Mitch Watson (84th, 26:36) and Ryan Coker (90th, 28:21).
The boys AA meet was won by Heritage's Gabe Pulsipher with a scorching time of 17:08.43, while Heritage won the team title, as well, followed by Brookwood out of Thomasville in second place.