By Chris Whitfield
TUNNEL HILL — For the past four years, Northwest Whitfield High School senior Maggie Kalafut has been running and leaping. In the fall she has been following the trails and slogging through the weather in cross country. In the spring, she has been a sprinter and high jumper for the Lady Bruins’ track and field team.
Now, she will concentrate on her distance running, becoming the latest local athlete to commit to the fledgling Dalton State College cross country team, signing with the Roadrunners on Wednesday at Northwest.
“It is close to home and the coaches really know what they are doing,” said Kalafut, who also considered offers from Brewton-Parker College in middle Georgia and Alabama’s Spring Hill College. “I am excited to run for them and be part of something new at Dalton State.”
Kalafut becomes the fifth Northwest Whitfield cross country runner to have the opportunity to continue running in college next school year. Twin brothers Parker and Brody Cook will join Kalafut at Dalton State, while Shelby Wilson signed Tuesday with Kennesaw State and Natalie Williams signed earlier this spring with Brenau.
“Five out of seven seniors in this class will run in college, and in the last six years combined we have sent eight off to college,” Northwest coach Tom Sell said. “You get good groups of kids together sometimes in cycles, and it makes me feel good as a coach to see them take the next step.”
Kalafut is looking forward to working and training with the local talent for the Roadrunners, which includes Murray County residents and brothers Rafael and Isaac Pacheco.
“It will be good to continue to run with people who have been my teammates because they are a great motivating force,” Kalafut said. “I am just excited to see where this chapter of my life goes.”
Margie Bruner, who is co-head cross country coach at Dalton State with Andy Meyer, said all of the local talent in the area has made their job easier and Kalafut is the latest piece to the puzzle.
“I am so excited,” Bruner said. “They are all great runners, and Maggie will fit in very well. Just knowing that she has so much potential, we have only seen the tip of what she can accomplish.”
Kalafut ran a personal best of 21:30 as an underclassman for the 5K (3.1 miles), but said this past year she was posting times in the 23-to-24-minute range. She knows she will cut those times dramatically at Dalton State, where she will study special education.
“I am looking forward to continuing my education first and foremost,” Kalafut said. “My goal running is to get back in the 20s or high 19s to have a good spot on the team.”
Bruner is anxious to see what she can do when she focuses on distance.
“She won’t really hit her personal records at their peak until she is in her 30s, but she can do a lot to help us over the next four years,” Bruner said. “I think she saw herself as more of a sprinter in high school, but I think she is figuring out that she is a gifted distance runner.”
“She is really a diamond in the rough,” he said. “Andy and Margie will really bring her along, and I am excited to see what she can do and excited to have the opportunity to watch her progress since she is right here at home.”