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Return of the ROY: N.C.'s Darby Middlebrook

The 2011-12 Gatorade State Cross Country Runners of the Year selection process is underway, and what better way to kick off coverage than with profiles of returning underclassmen winners? Repeating is no guarantee, but here's a snapshot of what this year’s challengers can shoot for …

Name: Darby Middlebrook

Position: Distance runner

Grade: Junior

School: Watauga (N.C.)

College: Undecided

Height: 5-foot-7

Notes: 2010-11 Gatorade North Carolina Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year ... 2010 DyeStat XC Top 25 series Honorable Mention selection ... 2010 All-State qualifier ... 2010 Foot Locker South Regional 13th-place finisher ... 2010 Class 4A state meet individual champion ... 2009 Class 4A state meet 52nd-place finisher

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Academics: 4.36 weighted GPA

Extracurricular activities: member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes ... volunteered on behalf of the Watuaga Women’s Fund to benefit area women in need

Watauga High head coach Randy McDonough: "I have never seen a runner get the confidence she did so quickly. She likes to sit back for the first part of the race, and then take off. She doesn't go out slow, but she doesn't lead. Once she gets the lead, she is not giving it back."

Each Gatorade State Runner of the Year is challenged by thousands of fellow high school athletes. These are a few of the returning girls cross country underclassmen that also contended in 2010-11 …

2009-10 Gatorade North Carolina Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year Wesley Frazier JR Ravenscroft; Samantha George SR Millbrook; Kaitlyn Kramer SR Ardrey Kell; Erica Amatori SR Green Hope; Maura McDonnell JR Green Hope; Brooke Gordon JR TC Roberson; Jessie Rossabi JR Green Hope; Lauren Colberg SR Green Hope; Vanessa Bateson SO Mount Tabor; Austin Vass JRPage; Hannah Barbour SR Watauga; Madelin Talbert SR South Mecklenburg

A dedicated POY team at ESPNHS manages the Gatorade Player of the Year program selection process and oversees all research, reporting, comparative analysis and criteria-compliance on the award program’s behalf. Candidates are judged upon athletic production and impact in the current season. Contenders must also demonstrate high academic achievement and exemplary personal character, including volunteerism, sportsmanship and community leadership. Any class year is eligible, senior status has no bearing on a candidate’s merit and selections are made independent of recruit rankings.

To nominate a student-athlete for Player of the Year honors, contact the POY team at ESPNHS_GPOY@ESPN.com.