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HS cross country notebook: North Hall reloads

POSTED: September 26, 2012 9:08 p.m.

Many cross country programs would have a tough time recovering from the graduation their two top runners.

North Hall has hardly skipped a beat.

“Yes, we lost Brandon Lawson and Luis Gonzalez from last year,” said Trojans coach Drew Rogers. “However, our next three returners (senior Witt Nix, senior Tucker LoCicero and Bryce Schuebert) were all returning. They put in a lot of hard work this summer and have all improved and are running about the same times as Brandon and Luis ran last year.”

Add in junior and last season’s top junior varsity runner Zack Hill, who Rogers said is just behind the top three, and last season’s state runners-up are once again a serious contender in Class AAA.

The depth of the roster is what really stands out. Rogers mentioned a number of runners vying to lock up the fifth spot on the team, including sophomores Quintin Miles and Seth Chapman, and juniors Bailey Pless and Luis Galvan.

“We probably have the strongest top eight in the history of the program right now,” Rogers said.

The team hasn’t gone unnoticed. The Trojans are currently ranked ninth out of schools in all classifications and second in Class AAA behind St. Pius X, the same school that beat North Hall by a single point last season in the state cross country meet in Carrollton.

Chestatee coach Mark Dunn said it made the move to Class AAAA a little easier knowing that the War Eagles wouldn’t have to go up against the Trojans in the region.

“Region 8-AAA was tough last year, with North Hall and White County, and North Hall is just loaded,” he said. “So we don’t have to worry about those teams.”

The North Hall girls, who have also been a serious contender in the region the last few years, also appear to have improved despite losing a couple of the top runners from a year ago.

“The girls have been much improved from last year,” Rogers said. “We lost Laura Mancin last year to graduation, but also lost our No. 2 girl, Madison Van Dyke, who moved to Ohio.

“However, we have a solid nucleus of girls returning led by senior Victoria Rogers. Our girls also ran extremely hard this summer and we are seeing some of the results in the first half of the season.”

Sophomore Makayla Ellis has stepped in as the new No. 2 runner behind Victoria Rogers, and the coach mentioned seniors Katie McDowell, Savannah Mendenhall, Teresa Jimenez, Alex Lawson and McCree Milford, as well as junior Caroline Dickey, as big parts of the team this season.

The reason for the improvement among both squads isn’t a secret.

“Most of the improvement this year can be attributed to the hard training each of these runners put in this summer,” Rogers said. “We asked each of them to run between 500-700 miles over the summer and we had 13 of them put in at least 500 miles, with a few of them reaching the 700 mile mark.”

FLOWERY BRANCH GIRLS RISING: Falcons cross country coach Jimmy Sorrells has had a very good boys program for years, having won state previously in Class AAA and in AAAA last season. But he doesn’t just want to be known as a good boys coach.

“I wanted to focus on making sure that I’m not just a good boys coach, but a good coach,” he said. “We have really worked hard to bring the girls program along. We’ve made some incredible strides and I’m very proud of all the girls.”

The Lady Falcons made their mark in Carrollton last year, finishing second at state after being ranked ninth going in. This year, the team is led by senior Megan Kirk and sophomores Cassidy Ward and Lauren Kirk. But they are only the top of a deep team, mainly sophomores, that the coaching staff has put together to replicate the depth that the boys have used to so much success.

“They’ve watched the boys the last few years and they realize you can’t do it just squeaking by,” Sorrells said. “They’ve bought into that.”

North Hall’s coach said this year’s Lady Falcons squad is the best girls team in the county. They’re also the No. 4 team in Class AAAAA.

While Sorrells said the team is still not yet where he’d like to see them, the future, and present, looks bright.
“This is the best team I’ve ever had, period; top to bottom the best team I’ve ever had on both sides,” he said. “Success breeds success. This is not an accident, it’s a system.

“No we’re not going to win state every year, but we’re going to maximize our potential.”

LOOKING AHEAD TO HALL COUNTY: The annual Hall County Championships will take place at 5 p.m. Oct. 11 at Chestatee Middle School. Sorrells, who hasn’t had his team at the meet for the past few years, said its up in the air as to whether Flowery Branch will run, a decision that could have a big impact on the race.

Both Rogers and Sorrells agree that, in the boys race, North Hall would be the favorite, thanks to its incredible depth. Rogers said the Flowery Branch girls would be a heavy favorite if they compete. If not, it could be a tight contest between Tori Mullinax and Sara Beth English of Chestatee, Taylor Long and Ryan Sherry of West Hall, Sara Hayes of Gainesville, and Victoria Rogers and Makayla Ellis of North Hall for the overall winner.

Sorrells said his team not running in the county race the last few years has nothing to do with being scared to lose, but that it hasn’t fit into the regimented training schedule that Sorrells has used — with great success.

“It’s the system I believe in, and Hall County’s just never fit,” he said. “We’ve made the state meet a very important focus, and I wouldn’t want to win Hall County and lose in the state meet. I’d rather prepare for the state meet and if we don’t win, know that we did everything we could to prepare.”

He said part of the issue is that the Falcons like to stick, to the most part, to running during the weekend, while Hall County is run during the week, something that Chestatee coach Dunn, who runs the meet, said most of the teams are OK with.

But, more than anything, Flowery Branch’s coach stresses going after the biggest events, including looking at a possible appearance in Nationals down the road. Sorrells said he doesn't want to downplay Hall County, but it's not what he's most focused on. He tells his runners, “do you want to be the big fish in the little pond, or the big fish in the big pond?

“I’ve always wanted to be the big fish in the big pond.”

PLAYING THE GOOD HOST: Dunn is keeping busy during the fall. Not only is he coaching the War Eagle boys cross country team, he is helping to host a number of meets, from the War Eagle Invitational earlier in the season to the Hall County Championships.

Dunn, the former Johnson coach, started the Hall County Championships when he was with the Knights years before, and took up the hosting duties again when he started at Chestatee last year.

Today he’s hosting yet another meet, the Williams Mill Invitational, which will be a preview of the Region 8-AAAA meet, which will be held later in the season featuring the same teams and hosted by Johnson and Chestatee.

Dunn likes his boys team’s chances of grabbing a top-four spot in the region and reaching state after coming up just short in recent years. Experienced runners Jason Deng and Jose Reyes, among others, have returned to bolster the group, which will get a good look at the competition, led by Stephens County, Walnut Grove, Lanier and Johnson, today.

It’s not the only region preview meet. Flowery Branch will run the Aubrae Gunderson invitational on Saturday in Conyers against many of the same teams, and at the same venue, where the Region 8-AAAAA meet will be later this season.


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