MOULTRIE – Perhaps the difference will be in the track. Not the track at Berry College, but the brand new track on the Colquitt County High campus. Elizabeth Funderburk is using it to train for one more ride in GHSA state lore and loves it.

For four years, Funderburk’s written a long story of running a long way to reach the finish first. A constant theme in her tale is hunger.

One year ago she satisfied the hunger for a championship as a Lady Packer, but she was still hungry. In the fall of 2017, Funderburk checked off perhaps the grand prize of her crusade. But something happened a year ago that still left her with the ultimate motivating factor: unfinished business.

On Thursday at Berry, Funderburk will be the overwhelming favorite to repeat as the GHSA 7A champion of the girls 3,200-meter run. This is the opening day of the state track and field championships, and it was on the first day of the 2017 event that Funderburk became a state high school champion distance runner for the first time.

By a microsecond, Funderburk lost the 1,600-meter (or one mile) final the next day. It was an image she carried into the summer and fall, when her senior year began with the cross country season. No one was near Funderburk in 7A when she won this title for the first time, racing without any injury issues or other mishaps that hindered her progress.

The spring arrived, and Funderburk focused on what to do about improving her 1,600 performance. In sports like running or swimming, even 0.19 seconds can be like a Grand Canyon-sized gap to close. So, she tried some 800-meter races – which are the sprints of the greatest distance – during the regular season.

Colquitt County High’s track schedule often involves regular season meets where Funderburk won’t have much competition. That was the case at Region 1-7A in Tift County, and in the 1,600 her pace led her to a time of 4:58.

“My goal this season has been to get better at the 1,600,” she said before her training session Monday at the new high school track. “The 3,200 (two miles), that’s already my stronger event. Each time I’ve run (one mile), I just tried to set a new personal best. Unfortunately I didn’t at region, but still ran under 5. I was pretty happy with that.”

At the Fitzgerald Invitational held March 16, Funderburk came in under 5 the first time this spring at 4:57.77. That was more than 30 seconds better than the second-place runner. She did not run the 3,200 there.

Once Funderburk got past region, it was on to GHSA sectionals, where she would see where the real competition for state supremacy would be. She might still be looking as far as the 3,200 goes, but the 1,600 features at least two girls who can hover around the 5-minute mark. One of those is not last year’s 1,600 winner in 7A, who graduated from West Forsyth after that meet.

Mill Creek High was the site of the sectional for Colquitt County track athletes on April 30.

“I was trying to run a good time in the 1,600 at sectional, but I ran 5:01,” said Funderburk. “I wasn’t super happy with that. It still got me the No. 1 qualifying time for state.”

Again, Funderburk was not pushed in this race, for 13 seconds later the next runner finished. If she had been in the other sectional, held at McEachern High, she would have met runners from Woodstock and Marietta who had seed times below 5:10. The best, in fact, was from Marietta’s Ani Henderson (5:02.68), but she ran the finals in 5:05.08 for third place. When it was over, the eight qualifiers were separated by 4.7 seconds. That’s compared to 27 seconds at Mill Creek.

Funderburk said she knows some of these girls also posted times under 5 minutes this season.

“I haven’t raced against them yet,” she said. “We’ve watched some races they ran in, but I’m not sure how they are going to try to run (Thursday). I just have to try to figure out my strategy, what’s going to give me the best chance to win.

“Everybody has a different pace. Mine, I try to go for 1:13 or 1:14 a lap.”

It’s four laps around the track for the 1,600, eight for the 3,200. Funderburk can finish her two miles – which is more of a cross country (5K) pace – in 10:30 while few others in 7A showed they can maybe get below 11 minutes.

“I really want to get both of them this year,” she said. “Especially after what happened last year. I was so close. I had a really good cross country season. This (track) season reached my expectations. It’s pretty much now go out with a bang and have fun.

“I’ve been fortunate throughout my high school running career. I’ve been able to train consistently.”

Funderburk actually wants to be a five-time state champion, which would put her in an exclusive class not just for Colquitt County, but for all of Georgia as well. Her total stands at two-time now and could be four-time after Friday’s 1,600 7A final. No. 5 is on a different surface with different rules.

She and the Lady Packer golf team qualified for the GHSA 7A tournament beginning May 21 at Spring Hill in Tifton. Funderburk’s accomplishments in golf – like more than 35 wins on the junior circuit – are up there with her running career, and she has a chance for a one-on-one battle with this year’s region low medalist, senior Kaysie Harrelson of Tift County. So Funderburk will put a week’s worth of time exclusively into preparing for that two-day event.

“There are a lot of other good girls in 7A (golf),” said Funderburk. “It’s not going to be just us two. But we definitely know the course better than the north Georgia girls. Hopefully it will be one of us to get the state title. You just have to be consistent over two days. You can’t have a good day and blow it up the other day.”

Funderburk already signed to be a distance runner at Florida State University. Harrelson signed a golf scholarship with Georgia Southern.

“(Colquitt County’s) been a great place to live, and it’s an honor to represent this school and the people,” said Funderburk, the Valedictorian, STAR Student and Georgia’s Gatorade Runner of the Year. “I look forward to keep making my town proud.”

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