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Area cross country teams look to make their mark at the state meet in Carrollton
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Lakeview Academy's Wright Allen leads a group of boys during the Hall County Cross Country Championships on Sept. 27 at Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville. - photo by Erin O. Smith

2016 Cross Country State Meet
Class A private boys (Lakeview Academy) 9 a.m.
Class AAA boys (Dawson County and North Hall) 8 a.m.
Class AAA girls (Dawson County and North Hall) 8:45 a.m.
Class AAAA boys (Chestatee and White County) 9:30 a.m.
Class AAAA girls (Chestatee and White County) 10:15 a.m.
Class AAAAAA boys (Gainesville and Habersham Central) 11 a.m.
Class AAAAA boys (Flowery Branch and Johnson) 12:30 p.m.
Class AAAAA girls (Flowery Branch, Johnson and Buford) 1:15 p.m.

With highs of 73 and 77 degrees and sunshine in the forecast for Friday and Saturday, cross country runners from across Georgia will be breathing a sigh of relief after last year’s rainy, muddy version of the GHSA State Meet in Carrollton.

The 64 teams, split between boys and girls, will bring hundreds of runners to Carrollton Elementary for the two-day event. They’ll be running in much more favorable conditions to last year.

“Last year was very, very rainy and muddy. It definitely slowed the times and made it a challenging course,” Flowery Branch coach Jimmy Sorrells said. “The course will definitely be dry (this weekend). If it cools off, you’ll definitely see times much faster this year, which is great for everyone.”

Sorrells said his program is focused more on the race itself rather than the conditions, no matter how much better they are than last year. It’s looking at the importance of being able to run in the state meet.

Flowery Branch’s boys won their fifth straight region title this year, and the girls won their third straight region championship. So they’re veterans when it comes to competing at the pinnacle of high school cross country. Sorrells hopes his teams can roll over the confidence from winning the region meet into the state meet.

“The term we use in running is ‘peaking well.’ We are peaking well,” Sorrells said. “They’re healthy and mentally well. It’s all coming to a good ending ... knock on wood. With all the practice this week, I can see all of that. That’s what coaches hope for.

“Right now, I feel like our team is running its best in our playoffs, so to speak. You want to run your best in late October and November, and we’re doing that.”

Flowery Branch will be running in the Class AAAAA meet. Johnson High will also have both squads in the meet, and Buford’s girls program will be competing in the AAAAA meet as well.

Dawson County’s boys and girls swept the Region 7-AAA meet, just ahead of North Hall on both sides.

The Tigers are ranked third in the state on the boys side heading into the big meet. North Hall is fourth. East Jackson and Westminster are Nos. 1 and 2.

Dawson County’s top runner, Jacob Poston, delivered a personal-best time of 15:32 at the region meet, beating second-place runner Tommy Johnston of North Hall by 28 seconds.

“He had never ran that fast before,” Dawson County coach Charles Beusse said. “His previous best was 15:56. I knew based on workouts and stuff I’d seen from him that he had a 15:40 in him, but I was surprised he hit 15:32.”

Beusse said he feels like Johnston hanging with Poston for most of the race really pushed the senior to run his best at Unicoi State Park last week.

Poston said he feels like the strong time was just something that had been building all season long. After having a season he wasn’t particularly proud of last season, Poston picked up the mileage in his training in the offseason. He trained harder and changed his diet, switching to a vegan eating style at the start of the school year, which he feels played a major role in his success at the region meet.

Now, as sights turn toward Carrollton, Beusse and Poston are aiming for a couple of different things — No. 1 being putting the first boys cross country team on the podium at the state meet.

“It would be huge. It’d be amazing considering how far we’ve come as a team. We’ve come so far over the last year,” Poston said. “It’s not going to be easy. We still have to beat North Hall again. We beat them at region, and they’re going to come back harder. Second place isn’t out of our grasp, but it’ll be tough.”

Poston said he’s going into the race with a different approach than his teammates.

According to Beusse, East Jackson is the favorite to win. “State is theirs to lose,” the Dawson County coach said. The Eagles’ top runner is Chase Kennedy, who posted a 14:57 run earlier this season.

For Poston, Kennedy is the target.

“Going into this, my plan is to compete with Chase Kennedy, and it’s my goal to beat him,” Poston said. “Seeing the way Chase runs, my plan is to go out and run consistently. He runs fast out of the gate. I want to go faster at the end because he normally slows down.

“As far as other competition goes, I’m not counting anybody out,” Poston continued. “I know there are some fast guys at Westminster and Pace (Academy). I’m looking forward to them pushing me. As far as my main goal, I’m not letting Chase get out of my sight.”

The Lady Tigers came in fourth last season at the state meet and come into the state meet this year ranked fifth, which they moved up to after winning the region meet over North Hall.

“There is a really strong group of top-four girls teams in the state,” Beusse said. “If we can come away with a top-five finish, that would be huge.”

For those who haven’t ran the course at Carrollton before, Poston said his advice would be to not be afraid to make mistakes and watch out for the hills.

Chestatee and White County each had their boys and girls teams make the state meet in Class AAAA. Gainesville and Habersham Central’s boys teams qualified for the state meet in Class AAAAAA. All of those races will be run on Saturday. Lakeview Academy’s boys will run in Class A Private, which will run Friday morning at 9.

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