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Cross country: Local teams in the running for state tite

POSTED: November 12, 2008 5:00 a.m.
Scott Rogers/The Times

Flowery Branch High's Kiara Woods finishes second during last week's Region 7-AAA cross country meet at Unicoi State Park in Helen.

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Coaches plan for the postseason and Flowery Branch’s cross country coach Jimmy Sorrells knows that his planning could lead to the program’s first state title.

During the regular season, the top-ranked Falcons boys competed in two meets at the state course in Carrolton, the site of today’s cross country state meet. The last time they ran there, during the Last Chance Invitational on Oct. 25, the Falcons came away with a first-place finish. If they do that today, they’ll be state champions.

"Our goal is the team championship," Sorrells said. "We don’t take anything for granted, and we’re going to make sure we have an opportunity to achieve our goal."

Standing in the way of that goal are some teams that the Falcons are familiar with, region foes North Hall and West Hall, the state’s eighth-ranked team.

"We’re ranked eighth and I think that’s an accurate ranking," West Hall coach Sam Borg said. "But we have high hopes of surprising some people and making it to the podium."

The top four teams make it to the podium at the state meet, and Hall County has been well represented on the medal stand the past three years. In 2007, Flowery Branch and West Hall finished third and fourth respectively, and in 2005 North Hall finished third. The Trojans followed up that third-place performance with a state title in 2006.

"We’ve got a shot at a state championship," said North Hall coach Jonathan Lillie, whose team boasts the Region 7-AAA champion Nolan Clark on its roster. "If everybody runs their race we have a good shot."

And Lillie has a good idea which team the Trojans will need to beat.

"Flowery Branch is going to be tough," he said.

And he should know, as the Trojans lost the
region championship to the Falcons by just 10 points. That loss has Lillie solely focused on Flowery Branch.

"I don’t worry about other teams," he said. "We want to worry about the team to beat, and Flowery Branch is the team to beat."

Flattered, Sorrells is staying humble.

"I feel like if we do the things we’re capable of doing then we have a chance to win," he said. "I think North Hall and Oconee County have a great chance of winning."

But according to the coaches in his own region, those two schools don’t have as good a shot as Flowery Branch.

"When you have seven runners of the caliber that can finish so close to each other, at this level, that’s pretty stout," said Chestatee coach Michael Hughes, whose boys and girls teams will be competing in the state meet.

Sorrells said it’s the makeup of his team that makes the Falcons so strong.

"That’s the key to success in cross country," he said. "If you can get your No. 1 and No. 5 packed within a number of seconds, that gives you an advantage.

"When we show up, we show up quickly, and that’s our advantage."

Another advantage is competing in what Lillie called the "toughest AAA region in the state."

"I don’t think any region in the state sees the caliber day in and day out like we do," Hughes said.

"Certainly, the top three teams in our region are going to make some noise."

That may be the case on the boys side, but in the girls competition, it’s any ones guess who will come out on top.

"Because they are a private school, you have to look at Westminster," Hughes said. "But then again, you can’t count out Flowery Branch. I don’t think those girls have peaked yet, but they are right there."

This is the fifth straight year that the Lady Falcons have made it to the state meet, but they have not finished better than sixth. That could change this year, as Flowery Branch enters the meet winners of Region 7-AAA, despite a disqualification of its top-runner Kiara Woods.

"She won’t make the wrong turn at state," Sorrells said.

While Woods will lead the Lady Falcons, Hughes expects a good race from Kelsey Neukum, who finished fifth individually at the region meet.

As for North Hall, Lillie is just proud that his girls were able to make it to the state meet.

"Their accomplishment this year was making it to state," he said. "They did what they set out to do, and we’ll build on that next year."



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