It was the kind of advice Mary Jeanne Assinzo needed to hear.
Entering the 1,600-meter run Thursday night in Albany, Assinzo heeded her coach’s advice and ran a personal-best time of 5 minutes, 2.74 seconds to capture the Class AAAAAA state title.
It’s the first state championship for Assinzo, who placed second in the state at the Class AAAAAA cross country championship this past fall.
“It’s really just surreal,” Assinzo said. “It really hasn’t settled in. I’m just happy right now and ready to get another one (Saturday) in the 800.”
Christman and Assinzo thought up a strategy to allow the distance specialist to maintain a solid pace for the first three laps of the race and then take over on the final lap.
Assinzo worked the plan to perfection. She was supposed to run her half mile in 2:32, but she came in around 2:35. A group of about three girls broke away from the pack on the final lap, but Assinzo didn’t go right with them initially.
“I figured I’d pick my pace up a bit and stay near them,” she said. “I knew I needed enough distance to catch them at the end.”
That is exactly what she did.
Assinzo moved into fifth place with 300 meters left in the race, then into fourth with 200 left.
“She was just in the back of the front four going into the final 100 meters,” Christman said, “and with the first couple of steps on the straightaway, she just outkicked them to the end.”
Assinzo didn’t want to let up down the stretch.
“I only thought about holding on and keeping up my sprint,” she said. “I felt (South Forsyth’s Savannah Carnahan) shadow running right next to me, and I just wanted to run through the line like my coach tells me to do.”
Carnahan was second at 5:03.70. Walton’s Avery Bussjager was fourth with a time of 5:05.20.
Assinzo’s time was a 12-second improvement off her previous personal best of 5:14. It was also a great improvement from last week’s sectional, in which she finished seventh at 5:17.71.
“I always felt like I was capable of lowering my time,” she said. “Coach told me I could do it, and I wanted to show everybody that I could.”
Coupled with Nyasiah Mercado’s eighth-place finish of 5:09.09 — 9 seconds faster than her previous best — and Marietta leads the Class AAAAAA team standings with 11 points after the first day of competition.
“We need as many points as we can get if we want to get on the podium,” Christman said. “Teams like Westlake and McEachern will be tough, so we have to finish well to be in the mix with the top teams.”
Pope’s Ashley Kehoe was third in the Class AAAAA 1,600 with a time of 5:09.78. Dunwoody’s Alex Cameron won in 5:06.23.
In the Class A private-school 3,200, North Cobb Christian’s Breck Jones crossed the line in eighth place (11:57.21). Atlanta International’s Helen Williams won in a Class A state meet-record time of 10:40.98.
Competition will continue today with field event finals, additional distance finals and running preliminaries before concluding Saturday.