TUNNEL HILL —
Both Northwest Whitfield High School girls cross country and track and field coach Shelley Taylor and Brenau University women’s cross country coach Susan McIntyre used the same word when describing Northwest senior Natalie Williams.
It doesn’t hurt that she’s also fast.
Williams, who turned in the area’s second fastest time at the Class 4A state cross country championships last fall with a personal best, signed an athletic scholarship with the Gainesville private college on Wednesday.
“It was somewhat surprising because a few years ago I never thought I would be running in college,” Williams said. “But as my senior year was approaching, I would see some of the times that girls at college were posting and thought ‘I could do that.’”
Williams was 26th overall at the state meet in Carrollton, posting a time of 21 minutes, 43 seconds on the 5K course while leading her team to a seventh-place finish. She was a member of The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Girls Cross Country Team her final three years of high school.
At Brenau, Williams will run cross country and also compete in distance events for the school’s track and field program, which is in its inaugural season. Brenau is a member of the NAIA’s Southern States Athletic Conference.
Williams said she was interested in Brenau even before she met with McIntyre during a visit to the school. Brenau recently started a physical therapy degree program. Williams has spent her final two years of high school as a dual-enrollment student at Dalton State College, and she said courses she has taken at Dalton State led her to physical therapy. She chose Brenau over North Georgia College and Mercer University.
“They are a really strong program, and I was already interested in Brenau for the academics,” Williams said. “I met coach McIntyre, and I was really impressed with her and the program.”
McIntyre said getting a runner of Williams’ caliber is a plus.
“It is definitely a dual bonus with her already wanting to come to Brenau and with her having such a strong academic record,” McIntyre said. “The biggest thing from my perspective is that she is a very coachable girl. She will get better and better, and she wants to be the best she can be and will put in the work to get there.”
Taylor echoed those sentiments.
“Natalie is every coach’s dream,” Taylor said. “You don’t look at Natalie as just an athlete. She is a complete student and a great person. Her times have improved the last two years, and all during her senior season she was setting personal records each time she went out, it seemed like.”
Brenau’s women’s cross country program claimed its best performance ever in the conference meet with a fourth-place finish last fall. The Golden Tigers had an average time of 21:14 for the 5K. With the school in the hills of Gainesville, Williams said she has been prepared well by the courses around Northwest Georgia.
“I performed my best in Carrollton at the state meet, and that is probably the most difficult course we ran and definitely the hilliest,” she said. “I feel fortunate to have trained throughout high school around here, and I will work hard this summer to get ready for college.”