High school cross country in Hall County has become a battle between North Hall and Flowery Branch for superiority. Both the Trojans and Falcons boys programs can claim bragging rights during the season as members of different regions and classifications, but local bragging rights are an entirely different matter.
Flowery Branch’s boys have been the top team lately with state championships three times since 2008. However, North Hall annually has the best individual runner in the area and that stretches all the way back to when it won the Class AAA state title in 2006.
“There may not be any superstars on our boys team this year, but we have a top three that could be as good as the school’s had,” North Hall coach Drew Rogers said.
At Flowery Branch, which is now competing in Class AAAAA, coach Jimmy Sorrells says the story is much about finding quality replacements to keep its rich tradition alive. After graduating the majority of its top seven from last year’s state champs, he’s got a strong junior class and possibly the best depth, with more than 40 runners battling for a top-seven slot on the boys side.
“My expectation is to continue the strong tradition we have established at Flowery Branch by returning to the state meet and placing amongst the top teams,” Sorrells said. “It is way too early to make predictions about our final placement at state, but it is always a goal of ours to be one of the best programs at state.”
And even with the depth of North Hall and Flowery Branch, the two are by no means the only talented programs in the area. West Hall and Chestatee should be competitive, White County is a program on the rise, and Gainesville has a standout runner on each squad in juniors Sara Hayes and Marcquel Woodard.
On the girls side in Class AAA, North Hall is ranked No. 3, West Hall enters the season sixth and White County is ranked No. 8.
Sorrells feels that finding talented runners to fill the opening vacancies from last year’s squad shouldn’t be too difficult. Taylor Fiorello, Nick Ashmead and James Slavik, all juniors, are returning as the team nucleus, according to Sorrells.
The Lady Falcons should be equally deep after a state runner-up spot in 2011. Senior Megan Kirk is the team’s leader, and will be joined by her younger twin sisters, Lauren and Hannah Kirk. Senior Ellie Tanner and sophomore Cassie Ward are also names to watch for the Lady Falcons.
“With fewer spots to replace, there are a lot of very talented girls fighting for the remaining spots,” Sorrells said.
After finishing second at state in 2011, North Hall is led by Witt Nix and Tucker LoCicero, both top-20 placers at state last season, and Bryce Schuebert. Rogers says all three of his top runners have consistently finished within 5-10 seconds of one another in practice and all under the 17-minute mark.
“We’re all real excited to see how we do this season,” said Rogers, who noted that 12 of his runners logged at least 500 miles over the summer.
The Lady Trojans are also talented with senior Victoria Rogers (eighth at state in 2011) and sophomore Makayla Ellis leading the charge.
At Chestatee, four of its top five boys from 2011 return with seniors Jose Reyes, Alex Bache and Bart Velasquez, and junior Jason Dang leading the charge. The War Eagles missed a state berth last season by only 11 seconds, after placing fifth in Region 8-AAA.
Also in the running to grab one of the spots on varsity for the War Eagles are Caleb Harlon, Fletcher Siegfried, Christian Zapatero, Aaron Phillips, Logan Allen, Luke Schneider, Logan Brock and Jack Carnes.
“Chestatee has depth this season with several new runners and we will be watching their progress as the season progresses,” Chestatee coach Mark Dunn said.
The Lady War Eagles have plenty of experience back also, with seniors Yaritza Carrillo, Tori Mullinax, Sarah Beth English and Paige Williams.
At Gainesville, Woodard, a recent placer in the US Track & Field Junior Olympics, is the guy at the top. Tanner Peacock, Alex Longoria, Esteban Salazar and Joseph Lozano have all improved greatly during the offseason, said Gainesville coach Adam Miller, and will bring depth to the Red Elephants.
“I feel like our boys team is as deep as its been in a long time,” Miller said. “I feel like we could put together seven or eight good times per meet.”
Hayes is looking for her third trip to state for the Lady Red Elephants, after placing in the top 20 last season in Class AAA. She’ll be joined by freshman Breanna Fair, who is coming off a strong middle school season, added Miller.
The biggest thing for Gainesville this season will be moving up to join Flowery Branch in Class AAAAA.
“The kids on our team are excited to see what they can do,” Miller said.
West Hall brings in a first-year coach in Shannon Reed, who expects big things from his two squads. The Spartans boys are paced by Brandon Nguyen, while the girls are led by seniors Taylor Long and Ryan Sharry.
West Hall will also host the West Hall Invitational with approximately 20 schools coming to compete Sept. 11 in Oakwood.
“I’m super excited to be coaching here at West Hall,” said Reed. “I inherited a wonderful program.”
At White County, coach Sam Borg is looking forward to seeing what freshman Jenna Gearing is able to accomplish. Returning sophomores for the Lady Warriors include Kristen Mitchell and Megan Norris. Meanwhile, the boys are led by sophomore Austin Thompson.
“We don’t have any seniors on this year’s team,” Warriors coach Sam Borg said. “This team has a great work ethic and there is some good potential.”