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Flowery Branch cross country winning with depth
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Flowery Branch boys cross country team members, including, from left, Josh Eldred, Matt Fiorello, Tanner Merck and Clayton Thayer, work out on the school campus on Oct. 30.

Cross country state meet

Saturday in Carrollton

Class AAAA

Boys, 8:30 a.m.

Girls, 9:15 a.m.

Class AA

Boys, 10 a.m.

Girls, 10:45 a.m.

Class AAAAAA

Boys, 11:30 a.m.

Girls, 12:15 p.m.

Class AAAAA

Boys, 1 p.m.

Girls, 1:45 p.m.

Class AAA

Boys, 2:30 p.m.

Girls, 3:15 p.m.

Flowery Branch junior Nick Ashmead is always looking at the numbers.

He said his friends call him “the stalker,” because the numbers he follows are those of the Falcons closest competitors, the times run by Lakeside-Evans, Pope and McIntosh.

Those are the teams, and the times, Ashmead and his teammates will need to beat in order to win a second consecutive cross country state title.

“I’m constantly looking at the stats. I want our team to be the best, and I think I can help us by knowing what’s going on,” he said. “I think we have a really good chance. Both with the stats we put up, and what we believe we can do.”

That doesn’t mean a repeat win, as well as a first in Class AAAAA, would be easy. Ashmead added that Flowery Branch has not had the best time in the classification this year, and the Falcons have the added pressure of being the team the others are gunning for.

“There’s more pressure for sure,” he said. “What we did last year, everybody’s expecting it again.

“But I like the pressure, it definitely motivates.”

Fellow junior and teammate James Slavik, who finished seventh on the team last year at state but is now the No. 4 runner, feels that pressure too. This year’s team will also be sending out a number of new runners for the 1 p.m. race Saturday in Carrollton, unlike many of their competitors, Slavik said, who have more experienced squads.

Among the runners gone from last season’s squad is top finisher Drew Garland, but this year’s team also has three talented runners not on last year’s team, including freshman Jake Shubert, junior Brian Young — running for the first time this season, and transfer Miguel Martinez. All are top seven runners for the team this season.

“We’ve been there before,” Slavik said. “We can’t guarantee we’ll win it again, but we’ll be there with a chance.”

The Falcons' dominant performance in winning the Region 8-AAAAA meet in Conyers is a good sign as to what to expect at Carrollton, considering that coach Jimmy Sorrells’ teams have been focused on not peaking until the state meet.

Sorrells noted that in 2009, when the Flowery Branch boys won their second of two straight Class AAA state championships, the team had finished second to fellow Hall County powerhouse North Hall in the region meet.

The Lady Falcons accomplished a similar feat last season, finishing second to Winder-Barrow in the region meet and then second at state, ahead of Winder-Barrow, in Carrollton.

After another second-place region finish, the Flowery Branch girls are looking for a similar boost.

“We always focus on state. We’ve got to be ready at region, but we focus on state,” said Flowery Branch sophomore Lauren Kirk. “We didn’t realize that we were going to get second (at state) last year, thought maybe we got top five. That was a great feeling to get second, now we want to get first.

“We all know how great our opportunity is to win.”

Success for the girls team has been one of Sorrells’ goals in the past few seasons, and he said this year’s team, unlike teams prior to last season, are much more balanced. The Lady Falcons have had a couple of runner-up individual winners at state before, but the team had never done as well as they did last season.

That strategy of packing, focusing on keeping runners together in a group rather than relying on a couple of dominant runners, has been successful for both Falcons teams.

“The secret is building a team, not a runner,” Sorrells said. “We won a state title without putting a boy in the top 10 once, and the year I had a boy win fourth, we finished third.

“Cross country is a team sport, where track is more individual, so we really focus on the team.”

The Falcons aren’t the only area cross country team with a team capable of winning a state title. The North Hall boys, who finished second by one point last season to St. Pius X, are returning to Carrollton after once again winning Region 7-AAA. Like the Falcons, the Trojans have a strong, balanced team, led by senior Witt Nix, who won region individually as well.

The White County girls, led by the dominant Jenna Gearing, will also be in the mix in Class AAA, and both Chestatee teams are headed to the state meet as Region 8-AAAA champs.

Region 8-AA champs Riverside Military, ranked in the top-10 in Class AA this season, will be looking to make noise as well.

The state meet begins at 8:30 a.m. with the Class AAAA boys race.

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