Baylee Evans was a sophomore at North Paulding High when the Woodland girls cross country program won the 2016 state title. She joined the Wildcats in 2017, and the team finished as state runner-up.
This year, she finished her high school XC career with a state title. Evans closed out the scoring for Woodland to edge out McIntosh by three points.
“It was amazing,” Evans said of winning the title. “It was probably the best highlight of my career, so far.”
She will have plenty of chances to add to her list of accomplishments over the next few years after signing her national letter of intent to run cross country at Troy during a ceremony Tuesday at Woodland.
“They’re a well-established program that has been around a long time,” Woodland girls XC coach Matthew Landolt said of the Trojans. “She’ll have big shoes to fill for them, but I think she’ll step up and fit in well in there.”
Evans said she visited five or six different schools, but Troy had an “inviting” feel.
“The coaches and team made it seem like a family,” Evans said. “That’s what I want in college.”
Based on the turnout for Evans’ signing, it’s pretty clear she had a family of Wildcats supporting her, too.
“I have a lot of friends who support me with everything that I do,” Evans said. “I’m just really grateful that I have them.”
Having gone to Woodland Middle School, Evans was familiar with a majority of the team. It showed, as she and her sister, Rylee — a freshman on the team — fit right in with the rest of the Wildcats.
“They set the environment that they want to work in,” Landolt said of the team’s older athletes. “They’ve created this sort of culture of winning and success. Really, they’ve just done a wonderful job of bringing the younger ones into the program.”
Evans’ signing marks the third for the program in the past two years. Fellow senior Cheyenne Spinks signed with North Georgia just weeks ago, and last year, Lindsay Scifers inked with South Alabama — a Sun Belt Conference school, just like Troy.
“It’s been a lot of fun having this group that’s come through here,” said Landolt, who was recently named GATFXCCA girls 5A XC coach of the year. “… It’s a wonderful and fun time to be a part of the program.”
Spinks and Evans, who said she wants to be a crime scene investigator, will leave some holes to fill on the Woodland roster. However, underclassmen, such as Rylee Evans, will undoubtedly rise to the occasion.
Both Evans sisters expressed gratitude for having been able to compete together this season.
“It was probably the best year I had,” Baylee Evans said. “We never raced together, so this was our first year. I’m sad it ended so quick, but it was nice.”
Said Rylee Evans, “It was amazing. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
“They get along really well,” Landolt said of the sisters, who finished 14th (Rylee) and 20th (Baylee) in the state meet. “Siblings are one of those funny things. You never know what you’re going to get. They’re either like oil and water or they’re like these two. They’re outstanding; they help each other; they work well together; and they’re best friends at the same time.”
Even though the cross country season is over, Baylee Evans said she’s looking forward to track and field. In the spring, she’ll look to compete for the Wildcats in the 800-meter run, the 1600 and the 4x400.
This time next year, though, she’ll be in Alabama, as her sister looks to help Woodland repeat as state champions.
“It’s kind of scary to think about how she’s going to be gone,” Rylee Evans said. “It’s nice to be able to have her as my sister and being in the same school together.”
Who knows, maybe in three years, Rylee Evans will be back in that same Woodland classroom to sign her letter of intent to compete at the collegiate level — possibly even at Troy.
“Hopefully,” Rylee Evans said, “we’ll be going to the same college one day, maybe.”