MOULTRIE -- When Colquitt County High's Paxton Gehle began running competitively in 1999, there was little doubt that she would be successful.

Her father Rick was a high school cross country star in his native New Jersey before running for Georgia Southern and has passed on, she says, "some of his tricks."

Her older sister Piper also ran for the Lady Packers and the sisters have helped Colquitt County coach Mell Wier rebuild a program that once was dormant for a year.

And Gehle's own drive, which has made her one of south Georgia's top high school soccer players, also has fueled her success the last four years.

Gehle will have one final opportunity to represent the Lady Packers when she takes part in her fourth straight state cross country meet on Saturday in Carrollton.

Along with her sister, she was a member of the last Colquitt County girls team to qualify for state in 1999 and has qualified as an individual the last three years.

As a sophomore, after finishing sixth in the region, she finished 100th at the state meet. Last year, after another sixth-place finish in the region, she was 111th at state.

Now a senior, she has been aiming for a career-best finish in her final trip to Carrollton.

"I'd like to be in the top 100," Gehle said Wednesday before a 3-mile run to help her prepare for Saturday's race.

"I don't know how that will go, but I'm going to try my best. My daddy wants me to give it all I've got and finish strong."

The Colquitt County boys team finished second in the region and will go to the state meet for the second year in a row.

"I think we're ready," Wier said of his runners. "I hope the boys will push themselves to finish better than they did last year."

The Packers narrowly missed winning the region meet a year ago, finishing behind Tift County. This year, the Packers again were second, coming in 15 points behind Lee County.

Running for the Packers on Saturday will be Will Blackburn, Brant Huch, Brett Boyd, Nathaniel Hiers, Davis Horkan, Aaron Nagy and Will Phillips.

Blackburn finished second in the region meet.

"We're not in a position to win state yet," Wier said of his boys team. "So we just want to do better than last year."

The Lady Packers did not qualify for state as a team this year, but Gehle, who was fifth in the Region 1-AAAAA meet in Valdosta, and Breanna Huch, who was sixth, qualified as individuals.

The top six individual finishers earn state meet berths, even if their teams do not.

Huch is just a freshman, and Wier is hoping she can start a streak similar to Gehle's.

Gehle has been one of Colquitt County's top female athletes for four years since she began training for the 1999 cross country season with her sister.

In addition qualifying for the state cross country meet each of the last four years, she also has started on the school's soccer team the last three seasons and is expected to be one of Region 1-AAAAA's top performers again this spring.

And while focusing on her final cross country race, she also is eagerly anticipating her final season of soccer, her favorite sport.

"You get to do more than just run," she said. "(Cross country) gets me in shape for soccer."

A region soccer championship would be a fine complement to a top-100 finish in the state cross country meet and Wier said Gehle has a chance to close out her fall career with a strong performance.

"She can get a top-100 finish if she gets her mind right," Wier said. "And the course is built for strength runners rather than speed runners. And she is a strength runner."

Harrison High is the Class AAAAA defending state girls champion. The Lady Hoyas also had the top two runners in the state last fall, with Michelle Brewer finishing first and Jessica Brewer coming in right behind.

Brookwood is the Class AAAAA defending state boys champion in the race held at tough Carrollton course, known for its one long, steep hill.

Gehle is well-familiar with the Carrollton course.

"It's not fun," Gehle said of the course. "It's challenging."

It already has been a memorable fall

for Gehle, named one of the senior princesses and a member of the Homecoming court. And before her final soccer season, high school graduation and plans to attend to Georgia Southern to work on a degree in home economics, Gehle can make her final cross country season one to remember as well.

"She has been running her best races at the end of the year," Wier said. "I can see a little fire in her eyes."

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