For teams like the Flowery Branch boys and individual runners like White County’s Jenna Gearing, the state cross country meet is a chance to repeat past success. Other area programs like Chestatee see this weekend’s races in Carrollton as a chance to make some noise and perhaps even take home a trophy for the first time.
Flowery Branch’s boys won state titles in 2008, 2009 and 2011 and will be looking for their first championship in Class AAAAA this time around.
Falcons’ coach Jimmy Sorrells believes that this season’s team is one of the deepest he has taken to the state meet — an advantage he hopes will increase the chances of avenging last season’s runner-up finish behind McIntosh High.
“This team is very close together as far as their performance standards,” Sorrells said. “My top one through six runners are as close as 20 seconds to each other, so that makes us very good.”
Sorrells said that the Falcons don’t really have a clear No. 1 runner on the team because of the close level of competition, so anyone could be the top performer this weekend.
“I’ve had four different runners on the team finish first in a race, and that means everybody is stepping up,” Sorrells said. “They’re doing exactly what I expected them to do.”
In the Region 8-AAAAA meet, the Falcons’ Nick Ashmead finished first overall, followed by Jake Shewbert in second and Miguel Martinez in fourth. Brian Young took fifth, Taylor Fiorello was seventh and James Slavik finished 11th.
“What’s crazy about that,” Sorrells said, “is that Slavik has finished first in races for us twice. “The competition amongst each other is very prominent. They want to be the best.”
While the Falcons look to get back to the top, Chestatee’s boys and girls squads enter the Class AAAA meet simply looking to improve on last year’s finish, after repeating as Region 8-AAAA champions this season.
“We felt good last year about just winning the region and going to state,” boys coach Mark Dunn said. “This year, the goal is to break the top 10. That’s what we would like to finish the season on.”
Dunn expected Jason Dang and Jack Carnes to perform well for the team this season, but the coach noted that runners Logan Brock and Ivan Martin have surprised him with their ability.
Brock was injured just a few weeks ago but finished seventh at the region meet, and Martin finished sixth to help the team to the win. Carnes finished second in the region, and Dang was third.
“I think we have a much stronger team going to state this year,” Dunn said.
Sara Beth English and Maggee Wilson are leaders for the Chestatee girls team. Wilson took second at the region meet.
Dunn also mentioned the strength of Abbie Cliche and Merrie Barnett, who took fourth and sixth, respectively, at region.
“This team has three seniors who are looking to get three or two in the state since they were four last year,” Dunn said.
Both teams are solid in the middle of the race, but the girls are deeper and stronger as a whole.
The boys team has a number of top-five team finishes and a few first-place scores, while the Lady War Eagles consistently finish at the top of the pack.
Part of the success for these Chestatee teams is the support they get from each other, Dunn noted.
“Both teams work out together, and they’re close knit and encourage each other as the race goes on,” Dunn said.
White County’s boys and girls teams train together as well and will head to the state meet together once again after the boys team failed to make it last year. The two teams compete against each other in a way, with Gearing constantly trying to better herself against fellow Warrior Austin Thompson, the boys’ top runner.
Coach Sam Borg noted that this “family feel” with friendly but tough competition prepares his runners for difficult races later on.
The Warriors also prepared for the state meet by running the Last Chance Invitational at the Carrollton course, making the teams more familiar with the layout.
“It’s kind of nice that we’ve been to Carrollton several times, and they just ran there a couple weeks ago, so its about mentally preparing this week,” Borg said.
Gearing, last year’s Class AAA girls state champion, is mentally preparing for her second state meet and possible second state title in just her sophomore year. The experience and her liking for the Carrollton course certainly doesn’t hurt her chances.
“Last year what she did was really off talent,” Borg said. “This year she’s taken that talent and become a smarter runner. Her first mile has been a lot smarter and she’s learning to run a 5K and maximize on that time.”
Although Gearing is exceptionally talented, Borg emphasized that there are a number of girls in Class AAA who could possibly overcome Gearing, so she must still run her best to come away with the victory.
She will compete along with her sister, Kaitlyn Gearing, and the No. 2 runner for the White County girls, Kristen Mitchell.
As for the boys team, Thompson is a clear leader, and Borg said that he “has made himself into a really good runner."
However, the Warriors get depth from the rest of the young team, composed primarily of sophomores who have had a year to gain some experience.
“We try to beat any inexperience by running in Last Chance so that they’ve seen that course,” Borg said. “I think they’ll be ready.”
North Hall’s boys are looking for their second state championship after winning in 2006. The Trojans will be up against powerhouse St. Pius X, but coach Drew Rogers believes that his team has the depth to potentially overcome them if everything goes well.
Quintin Miles and Bryce Schuebert have been the alternating No. 1 and 2 runners all season, but the other top six runners all fall with in 45 seconds of the pair.
“All of those guys except two ran the course last year at state, and we went down and ran it a week and a half ago,” Rogers said. “It’s a hilly course, but I think they play to our advantage because we’re used to running hills here.”
The Lady Trojans have a chance to finish in the top six with their talent, led by Makayla Ellis who finished sixth in the state last year.