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Area cross country teams aim to qualify for state at region meets
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Lakeview Academy's Wright Allen, Gainesville High School's Daniel Ruiz and Chestatee High School's Edwin Amaya run in the Hall County Cross Country Championships hosted by Riverside Military Academy on Sept. 27 at Maginnis Field in Gainesville. - photo by Erin O. Smith

New regions. New teams. New courses.

With cross country region meets kicking off today, there will be a lot of new faces for athletes and coaches alike to compete against due to reclassification by the GHSA.

Despite all the shifting, there’s not a whole lot of difference for the mindset of coaches.

At region, top four teams will qualify for the state championship Nov. 4-5 in Carrollton. Also, the top six individual finishers earn a spot if they're not part of a qualifying team.

“We’ve prepared the same. We want to do the best we can, that’s the same every year,” North Hall coach Drew Rogers said.

Jimmy Sorrells, who coaches at Flowery Branch, said he “doesn’t worry about other teams as much as my own.”

Sorrells said he just wants to make sure his runners are healthy and ready to compete on Thursday at Unicoi State Park in Helen.

Flowery Branch remains in Region 8-AAAAA, but its race moved to Unicoi State Park, just north of Helen, after having raced at the Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers for years.

“We ran Unicoi at the Mountain Invitational earlier this year,” Sorrells said. “We altered our schedule so we’d have some experience there. Our kids loved the Horse Park. They’re kind of disappointed we’re not running there, but I also think they’re excited about the challenge of running somewhere fresh.”

Gainesville, now in Region 8-AAAAAA, will also be facing a new course this season as they travel to Bramlett Elementary in Auburn. The event is hosted by Winder-Barrow High.

Red Elephants coach Adam Miller said his kids, too, loved the Horse Park and said that it’s going to be an adjustment going to a new spot.

“It’s a new course, it’s a difficult course, so I think times will be slower,” Miller said.

Gainesville will start with the girls at 8 a.m. on Saturday. Miller said it’s hard to tell how the time will affect runners, but one of the big factors could be the weather.

“You train all year in warm weather and then get to region and it’s cool weather in the morning,” Miller said. “It’s all different than it was back in August and September.”

The Lady Red Elephants are dealing with injuries and are working on rebuilding the program. Miller said he hopes to see the girls qualify for state, but injuries and youth could hold them back.

For the boys, Gainesville could compete for a region title with Dacula standing as the major hurdle.

“We’re looking forward to the challenge with the new region and a couple of new teams,” Miller said. “We’re dialed in to knowing what the expectation is. We’re excited.”

Flowery Branch will hope to take on its new course and have the same success as last season in which both its boys and girls teams won region titles.

The Lady Falcons took five of the top six places, including Erika Plummer winning, in their race in 2015. The boys’ top five all placed 11th or higher, including Jake Shewbert taking top honors.

Sorrells said his group lost seniors, but the girls they have back are “very talented and have worked very hard. Probably the hardest working group of girls our school has had since it’s been open.”

Discounting and out-of-the-blue injury, Sorrells said he feels “like we’ll have a good shot with this group of girls.”

The only two seniors in Flowery Branch’s program this year are on the boys side. Sorrells said he’s had a sophomore and a freshman step up.

Collin Kilgore, who is the younger brother of junior Cole Kilgore, is a freshman and has been a pleasant surprise for Sorrells.

“It’s very refreshing to see someone that young have the drive to step in for some of those seniors we graduated,” Sorrells said.

Sorrells said his girls are expected to be the favorites for the team region championship. On the boys side, it could be a “four-way meet” between the Falcons, Loganville, Buford and Johnson.

Rogers had both squads qualify for the state meet last year and expects to do the same again. He said while his team wants to win the region meet on Thursday evening at Unicoi, it’s more focused on getting everyone through to state.

“Our focus is more on state, even though we do want to win the region,” Rogers said. “We’ll probably have to beat Dawson County to do that and they’re very good this year. They’re the top team, other than us, for boys and girls.”

Rogers said his team has ran against Dawson County twice this year and beat them both times, “but it was very, very close.”

For the boys, Rogers said his top two - Tommy Johnston and Devan Crow - are very close to the top runner from Dawson County. For the girls, the coach likes their chances to win the team title.

“We should have seven girls come in before anyone else’s fifth comes in,” Rogers said.

North Hall carries the largest senior class since Rogers has been there with seven boys and four girls.

Regardless of where the Trojans fall at the region meet, there are high aspirations for them at the state level.

“Right now, our boys are ranked second in the state and our girls are ranked fifth,” Rogers said. “We’re hoping we can do at least that.”

Regional events