Because their schools are in different classifications, Dacula’s Skylar English and Peachtree Ridge’s Mary Kathryn Knott were seldom head-to-head rivals. During the high school cross country season, they spoke just briefly at this year’s Gwinnett County Championships.
Since the season ended, they have exchanged numbers so they can communicate about their futures, which may or may not end up with the two being college teammates — English will run for Georgia, while Knott’s favorite colleges are UGA and Georgia Tech.
How much they have in common going forward remains to be seen, but they shared similar senior seasons in 2017, with both finishing as a state runner-up in times separated by two seconds. The top Gwinnett runners throughout the season also share the Daily Post’s runner of the year honor.
For Knott, it’s her second straight year earning the award. It also capped a challenging year that saw her break a bone in her hip late in the high school track and field season.
“I’d say (my season) was pretty similar (to last year),” Knott said. “I feel like I didn’t progress as much this season as I wanted to, but my times were definitely better than last season. So it was a good season overall. … I definitely had a big jump from my first race to my second and I was pretty consistent throughout the season. I wish I had one more jump to put me under 18 (minutes), but it’s OK.”
English was just as consistent in her classification, improving on the 2016 season, which was her first in cross country. She has balanced running practices with club soccer, her first love, and still reached a high level of success for the Falcons.
“I feel like it went well for the most part,” English said of her senior season. “I feel like I got better but we didn’t run a lot of fast courses, so I didn’t get the super-low times I wanted to get. But I feel like I got stronger and I am more comfortable with the sport now. My placings against other people were better, too. I think I did pretty well this season. It was really fun.”
Knott didn’t have her normal training during the summer while she recuperated from the spring injury, instead spending her time on a stationery bike. When she was finally cleared to run, she said the injury never bothered her again.
She finished as runner-up to English at the Gwinnett County meet in 19:23 to English’s 19:12 — the only race during the regular high school season where the two went head-to-head — then improved through the course of the season. She won the area championship in 18:57 and was the Class AAAAAAA runner-up in 19:28, nearly a minute behind Colquitt County star Elizabeth Funderburk.
The season didn’t end with a state title, but there was plenty to like from her final high school cross country season.
“I couldn’t be happier (with her season),” Peachtree Ridge coach Matt Adams said. “It was a question mark whether she was going to be able to come back full strength and do what she’s done before. For her to come back and break every personal record she’s done before, every personal course record she’s had, she’s really shown that work ethic is key to this sport. She was very diligent in her physical training. She trusted the coaches when we wanted to hold her back early on. She trusted us. She trusted the process. She did a great job as far as executing the plan we put forward.”
English’s early season also included a win at the Rock Ranch Invitational in 18:49, a nice start to go with her Gwinnett County title. She coasted to her region championship in 19:31, following it up with a second-place showing at the AAAAAA state meet in 19:30, 32 seconds behind winner Makena Gates of Creekview.
Her final race was the USA Track and Field Georgia Meet of Champions on Nov. 11, the week after state. She ran well to take eighth in 18:30, while Knott finished 13th in 18:38, just the second time the two were in the same race this season. The two runners they finished behind at state, Funderburk and Gates, were first (Funderburk in 17:38) and second (Gates in 17:51) at the Meet of Champions.
“For Skylar to have been able to compete at the highest level in cross country with only two years of experience speaks volumes about her athleticism combined with her work ethic and drive to be successful,” said Mark Karen, who coaches English in both cross country and soccer at Dacula. “Skylar is one of the best overall athletes that we have in Dacula. UGA and Coach (Patrick) Cunniff is getting a true diamond in the rough. Skylar has never trained a full consecutive calendar year as a runner and once UGA is able to get her to do that, I think even bigger things will happen for Skylar. I am just happy to have Skylar for one more season as she will be a four-year varsity soccer player this spring.
“I know soccer is her more of her passion and she wants to play one more season before fully committing to her running career. She is an amazing and accomplished student-athlete. She has deserved and truly earned her opportunities and accolades.”
English, despite a future in running at UGA, said it was a no-brainer to play soccer in the spring instead of focusing on track.
“This is my last season ever and I’ve played soccer since I was 5,” English said. “It’s crazy. I want to try to do a couple of track meets. I have to talk to our distance coach, our assistant cross country coach. I want to talk to her to see if I can do a couple of meets where I would be running and wouldn’t be taking anyone’s spot. I’m not going to take it super seriously. I’m just going to try my best and see what it feels like to run track a little bit since I’ve never done that.
“Our soccer team’s hopefully going to be pretty strong this year. I’m just really really excited to see what we can do. I’ve been on the team since we were a building team and trying to get back to a higher level and now I think we’re going to be able to accomplish a lot of things this season.”
After the spring, English heads to Athens to run for the Bulldogs. She said the college choice was an easy one, calling UGA her “dream school.” If running wasn’t an option, she would have gone to Georgia as a regular student.
Georgia also is in play for Knott, who lists the Bulldogs and Georgia Tech as her top two schools. She is considering a career in the medical field, and both schools fit her needs — Georgia Tech in biomedical engineering or biology, and UGA in biology.
“As of right now, it’s between UGA and Georgia Tech,” Knott said. “I’m still deciding between those two. Both are really good options. I just want to see which one’s best for me.”
While English plays soccer, Knott returns to competitive high school track for the first time since her hip injury.
“My goals, in the 3,200, I really want to break 11,” Knott said of her senior track season. “The 1,600, I would like to get under 5:10. The 800, I don’t do that race as much, so maybe low 2:20s. … I’m ready to start building up my mileage more (to prepare for track).”