Region 7-AAA meet
When: Girls race begins at 4:30 p.m., boys race begins at 5 p.m.
Where: Unicoi State Park
There’s a real sense of pride among Region 7-AAA’s cross country coaches about the level of talent at the different schools in the region.
Perennial boys’ powers Flowery Branch, West Hall and North Hall are all ranked in the gatfxc.com top 10 poll heading into the Region 7-AAA cross country meet today at Unicoi State Park in Helen.
“I’m really proud of this region,” said Sam Borg, the coach of eighth-ranked West Hall. “We want to try to win at region, but we’ll all be cheering for each other at state.”
“Region 7-AAA is very competitive,” said Flowery Branch coach Jimmy Sorrells. “We sent two to the podium at state last year, and that competition makes us all better.”
The top four teams and top six individual finishers from the region meet earn a trip to the state field in Carrollton.
Once again, the top-ranked and defending 7-AAA champions Flowery Branch enter the region championships at the challenging mountain course in northern White County as the team to beat.
The Falcons have already grabbed four titles on the boys side and a pair of runner-up finishes in the region since the school opened in 2002.
Sorrells said that the biggest challenge now is to be the front-runner that everyone else is trying to knock off the top spot.
“We’ve always been the chaser,” Sorrells said. “It’s just different to now be the team that’s being chased.”
The biggest challenge for competitors at Unicoi State Park is the steep uphill climb near the 1«-mile park, with a sharp dog-leg left turn coming down hill, followed by one final climb uphill. Unicoi’s track is fairly deceptive at first with a relatively flat start and finish.
“Most of our kids really enjoy running at Unicoi,” Borg added. “We feel like we know practically every inch of the course.”
“You really have to run the course smart to do well,” Sorrells said. “It’s important to run the first half of the race correct to have enough energy.”
North Hall senior Nolan Clark finished second last season (16-minutes, 48 seconds) and is the highest returning starter in the boys race.
Flowery Branch senior Daniel Martinez finished third last season (16:55).
In the girls’ race, West Forsyth is the defending champion. North Hall, Flowery Branch and Chestatee also qualified for state last year.
The top returning girls finishers from last year’s race are Chestatee’s Kelsey Neukum, who placed fifth, Flowery Branch’s Eileen Devico and North Hall’s Patrice Sweet.
Most of Region 7-AAA’s school took part in the Mountain Invitational at Unicoi State Park on Oct. 7 and got a preview of what was to come at the region meet.
Flowery Branch’s boys finished first (60 points), North Hall second (79) and West Hall third (139) in what was a 33-team field.
Gainesville finished fifth and Chestatee sixth in that race.
“Our first priority at the region meet is to qualify for state,” Sorrells said. “Then after that we want to try and win the region title.”
If Flowery Branch wins at region it is setting up another run in Carrollton, where it took first place at the Last Chance Invitational last Saturday. The Falcons took six of the top 10 finishes including Martinez’s third place finish (16:55), Maurice Riden finished fourth (17:00), and David Farist finished fifth (17:08).