Brooke Browning feels fortunate the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t impact her sport as much as others.

“Only in the slightest bit,” the Hebron Christian junior said. “I still got out running most every day, trying to get better. I wouldn’t say it’s impacted me too much in the summer.”

The biggest setback for Browning and other cross country runners around Gwinnett happened during the spring season when classes went online and sports were canceled. For runners, they lost almost an entire track season.

But Browning considered that a minor hurdle, and she spent the summer making up for it.

“Starting off the summer, and coming off the track season that wasn’t as we expected, we came back in and got into the swing of things as the summer went on to get more serious about our training and training daily, getting enough distance in with speed work at the same time,” Browning said.

Now she hopes the coronavirus eases up enough for a high school cross country season.

Browning continues to improve as a runner — the longtime soccer player picked up running more seriously when she got into high school, but continued to play soccer, too — and she is eager to race against other runners.

“I still love the competition of (running) and going out to compete and get better, to see what I can do every race,” Browning said. “I enjoy racing. I do. Having that competition makes it even more exciting.”

The reigning Daily Post Runner of the Year also wants to improve on her times and finishes from the 2019 cross country season, when she ran a Gwinnett-best time of 19 minutes, 42.64 seconds on a hilly Carrollton course at the state meet. The third-place finish in Class A Private made her the only Gwinnett girls runner on the Atlanta Track Club’s prestigious All-Metro Team.

Browning also won the Area 2-A Private title and was county runner-up last year, and already has the Hebron school record in the 5K at 18:31.70.

“Going into this season I’m hoping to come out with a win at the Gwinnett County Championships, obviously chisel time off my PRs and hopefully finish with a top-three finish at state,” Browning said.

Her coach thinks she is ready to take another step forward this season.

“Brooke Browning was born to run,” Hebron coach Mike Taylor said. “She is a joy to coach. Brooke is one of those rare athletes who will do everything you ask in practice and then some. Brooke cares how well she performs and also wants her teammates to get better as well.”

An individual state title is a legitimate goal, too. Landmark Christian’s Erin Fegans, the 2019 state champion in A Private, graduated, leaving runner-up Cara Joyce of Atlanta International School and Browning as the top two contenders coming back, though fourth-place finisher Reese Neumann of Holy Innocents’ was a a close seven seconds behind Browning at the state meet.

“It would be awesome (to win state) if I can,” Browning said. “I’m hoping.”

She also thinks her team can do well at the state level with improvement from last season and the return of Georgia Piper, a 2019 Super Six selection, from an injury-plagued season.

“I think that our team is going to come out a lot stronger than last year with some new additions to the team,” Browning said. “I’m also excited to see what we can do with a new region and new competition in there. And hopefully we can finish higher at state.”

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