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Gainesville boys, White County girls cross country teams pick up wins at Riverside Invitational
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Jaelen Alexander of White County approaches the finish line in the girl's varsity race on Tuesday at the Riverside Military Academy XC Invitational in Gainesville. - photo by David Barnes

It took many years, but the Gainesville High boys cross country program has built depth to be able to compete in large events. On Tuesday, the Red Elephants took the top prize in the 14-school field of the Riverside Invitiational at Riverside Military Academy. 

Paced by a third-place finish by senior Mugisha Beinvenu (15 minutes, 57 seconds), running in only his second five-kilometer race, Gainesville (44 points) edged out second-place White County (80) and third-place North Forsyth (96) for its second win of the season. Earlier this season, Gainesville’s boys placed first at Chestatee, which was a sign of good things to come this season. 

“It feels good to win, we’re really getting better,” said eighth-year Gainesville coach Adam Miller. “These kids have set goals and we know we have a lot of work still to do to get to where we want to be as a program.”

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Josh Schunk of North Forsyth approaches the finish line in the boy's varsity race on Tuesday at the Riverside Military Academy XC Invitational in Gainesville. - photo by David Barnes

North Forsyth’s Josh Schunk won the boys’ race, crossing the finish line at Maginnis Field with a time of 15:53 seconds — his first overall victory and nearly a minute faster than his previous personal best. Just outside of the front spot for most of the race, Schunk made his move to the front on the final hill behind the baseball field to the football stadium parking lot. He kept the lead for the final 800 yards and crossed the finish line four seconds ahead of Chestatee’s Edwin Amaya. 

“It feels really great to be able to come out here and win today,” said Schunk, a junior. “I felt like it was a pretty fast course since it was fairly flat.”

Gainesville finished with four of its runners in the top 10. Now, the Red Elephants turn their attention to the Hall County championships next week in Flowery Branch and the Region 8-6A meet in October.

“Our main goal this season is to go on and win region championship,” said Daniel Ruiz, who placed ninth for Gainesville at Riverside Military. 

The girls’ race wasn’t nearly as close, as Class 4A’s second-ranked White County (18 points) put six runners in the top 10 to beat second-place Hart County and third-place Chestatee. 

Lady Warriors junior Jaelen Alexander led from beginning to end and won with a time of (19:27). She said choosing to wear traditional running shoes without spikes helped, due to the span of gravel and concrete on a large part of the course at Riverside.

She crossed the finish line 200 yards ahead of White County senior Rachel Gearing who used a strong final kick to lock up second place, 24 seconds behind the winner. 

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Athletes run in a 2017 race at the Riverside Military Academy XC Invitational in Gainesville. - photo by David Barnes

“I’m really proud of our girls for winning,” White County coach Sam Borg said. “It’s great to be able to win a race here locally.”

White County’s entire girls team started fast through the first 200 yards, a result its coach said was from running in meets against higher classification schools all season. The Lady Warriors are coming off a fifth-place finish at the Warpath Invitational on Saturday in Canton, a field heavy in Class 7A programs, according to Borg. 

“It looked like we were starting fast, but when you’re running against so many bigger schools, everyone is that fast,” Borg said.

In the boys’ race, Rogan Norrell of Lyman Ward Military Academy (Camp Hill, Ala.) was fourth place (16:16), followed by North Forsyth’s Caleb Hall in fifth (16:19).

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