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No clear favorite in Saturday's state cross country meet
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Part of the allure of the state cross country meet in Carrollton is that the outcome is anyone’s guess. Competitors on the boys and girls side will all converge today on Carrollton High’s course to decide individual and team champions.

However, one thing is for sure: There will definitely be a new state championship team crowned this season in the Class AAA boys race.

After winning the state title in 2008 and 2009 as a member of Class AAA, the Flowery Branch High boys, ranked No. 7 in the all-classification poll by, are a contender this time around in Class AAAA after reclassification. That leaves the door open for North Hall, West Hall, St. Pius X, Woodward Academy, Allatoona, Columbus and Heritage-Catoosa, just to name a few of the top teams.

“There’s not a clear-cut favorite and anything can happen on a given day,” North Hall coach Drew Rogers said. “It’s a lot of fun for the spectators to watch too.”

The one uncontrollable variable for this year’s state championship meet is an expected temperature in the lower 30s when running begins with Class A at 8:30 a.m. this morning, a far cry from last year’s conditions of sunny and 70 degrees.

The goal for every team is to get a top-four spot and reach the podium. However, some runners also qualified for state individually based on results at region championships.

“It’s great because the meet has that state championship atmosphere,” West Hall coach Sam Borg said. “There’s going to be a lot of good teams there, but our goal all season has been to place in the top four for the boys and girls.”

The chance is also out there for an individual and team championship to emerge from the same local school. North Hall’s Cody Barger, a winner in 10 of 11 outings this season, won the Region 8-AAA championship going away this season at Unicoi State Park with a time of 16 minutes, 16 seconds, followed by his teammates Luis Gonzalez in second and Brandon Lawson in fourth.

“I feel like our boys have a very good chance to place second,” Rogers said.

The St. Pius X boys are the favorite to win in Class AAA, led by Brendan Hoban and his all-classification state-best time this year of 15:06. Another pair of runners gunning at the title in Class AAA are Columbus’ Adam Jones and Nathan Vassey of Woodward Academy.

For West Hall, Josh Pendley (third at region), Jimmy Gault (fifth at region) and Brandon Nguyen (seventh at region) lead the way and would like to place in the Top 10 as a team. Last year, the Spartans failed to qualify for state, which led to more intense training this season.

“We’re really excited to run at state,” said Pendley, who has battled past a recent case of viral bronchitis. “I’m hoping to get around 16 minutes at state.”

“Our team is peaking at the right time,” Borg said.

Flowery Branch coach Jimmy Sorrells is excited about the team he’s sending to state. The Falcons placed all seven of their boys in the Top 10 at the recent Region 8-AAAA meet in Conyers. Flowery Branch’s Maurice Riden (16:50) won the region title and was followed in order by Kenny Slavik and Drew Garland.

“At region we ran an amazing race because our team was relaxed,” Sorrells said.

However, the field for competition is thick in Class AAAA with top-ranked Chapel Hill, No. 2-ranked Marist and third-ranked Flowery Branch leading the way. Also in the running for the top spots are Lakeside-Evans, Lakeside-DeKalb, Evans and McIntosh, according to Sorrells.

Chapel Hill is the leader with Wade Voyles the owner of the top time in Class AAAA this season and Adonis Gaines, ranked the ninth-best runner in the state. Lambert’s Trevor Grant is also a contender for the state title.

“Our frame of mind is to run our best race at state,” Sorrells said. “We know that Class AAAA is very, very tough.”

Also making the trip to state locally are Lakeview Academy in Class A, Dawson County and Union County in Class AA, Gainesville in Class AAA, along with Habersham Central in Class AAAA. Jefferson’s Kyle Kashuba qualified individually with a top-six finish at the Region 8-AA meet.

Rogers says that the girls race will be wide open with 10-15 runners conceivably able to finish first overall. One of those runners is White County’s Jessie Dotson, the Region 8-AAA champion with a time of 19:25.

The winner is not going to take the title easily,” Dotson said. “It’s going to come down to who wants it the most.”

Leading North Hall to the team title at the region meet were Victoria Rogers (19:40) and Ansley Lawson (19:58) in second and third place, respectively. Coach Rogers is counting on his top two girls to lead the team to a podium finish as a team.

“If we run great at state, we could battle for the top spot,” coach Rogers said. “I’d say our girls have a slightly better chance than the boys of winning.”

West Hall’s girls are counting on freshman Savannah Smith and sophomores Taylor Long and Ryan Sharry to lead the way after all three placed in the top nine at region. Borg says that the key to a strong team finish is for his fourth and fifth runners to step up and have a big day.

Flowery Branch’s Megan Kirk placed seventh at region and Brittany Wells was No. 10 overall.

Gainesville freshman Sara Hayes met the cutoff to run at state individually with a sixth place finish at Region 8-AAA.

Towns County’s girls qualified for state in Class A. In Class AA, Buford, Dawson County, Jackson County and Jefferson are all running at state. Chestatee is headed to state in Class AAA.

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