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Prep cross country teams ready for season
0821crosscountry RW
Members of the Flowery Branch High cross country team warm up before practice at the school’s track. The Falcons are ranked No. 2 in Class AAA entering the cross country season. From the left they are Michael Lyons, Matthew Massaro, Kenny Slavik, Jeffery Velez, James Lambert, Maurice Riden, Daniel Martinez, David Farist. - photo by Scott Rogers | The Times


Listen to Flowery Branch senior Daniel Martinez talk about his excitement for this season.

Flowery Branch boys cross country coach Jimmy Sorrells doesn’t want to let a high preseason ranking get in the way of his team’s ambition. The second-ranked Falcons, according to the poll, feel like they have a team in place that can improve on last season’s third place finish at the Class AAA state meet.

In fact, if Sorrells could have his way, Flowery Branch wouldn’t be ranked to start the season. He says that a high ranking only serves as motivation for those that want to pull off the upset.

"Rankings are simply speculation," Sorrells said. "What I want is to be No. 1 at the end of the season."

But any cross country observer can understand why the Flowery Branch boys are ranked so high to start 2008. The Falcons return the entire group that edged out West Hall for the Region 7-AAA title last year. Flowery Branch has a core group consisting of Daniel Martinez, Jeffrey Velez, David Farist, Maurice Riden and J.T. Orr that lead this group through the example they set on the track. Just as importantly, they were a part of the Flowery Branch track and field team that placed second in the state last season.

"I’m very excited about this season," Martinez said. "We have a really good team in place."

What makes Flowery Branch even stronger this season is a freshman class added to the mix to push the veteran runners. Sorrells says he wouldn’t be able to pin down who the top seven runners would be if the state meet took place today.

"I think it’s an ideal situation to have everybody back this season," Sorrells said.

"For the first time, I feel like our team has the tools and athletes in place to contend (for state)," Sorrells added.

Before Flowery Branch can think about contending for a state title, it has to qualify in a very deep Region 7-AAA this season. No. 5-ranked Creekview and tenth-ranked West Hall are going to push the Falcons for a spot at the state meet. North Hall has the top returning boys runner in Region 7-AAA, Nolan Clark, after finishing second with a time of 16 minutes, 48 seconds at the region meet last year.

Sorrells says that West Forsyth is also going to be a much improved team this year.

"This is a very competitive running region," Sorrells said. "We’re looking at a five team fight."

To prepare for such a highly anticipated season, the Falcons spent an intense summer preparing through voluntary workouts. Sorrells says that about 15-20 members of the team would meet each morning to run. Flowery Branch’s squad started the summer going between 35-40 miles each week and ramped up to near 50 by the time school started. In addition to morning runs, Martinez says that he would run an additional four miles in the evening.

"Our team has done a great job preparing, and we just have to continue to work hard all season," Sorrells said. "We have 11 weeks left to the state meet."

Below is a preview of the remainder of teams in the area.

FLOWERY BRANCH GIRLS — The No. 6-ranked Lady Falcons are certainly a team to contend for the Region 7-AAA title after finishing eighth in state last season. Eileen Devico, a junior, finished with a time of 21:25 at state last season. Kiara Woods, Jessica Elinburg, Ana Lopera, Utami Ketchem, Nathalie Yanez, Nitzia Barcenas round out the top seven for Flowery Branch. "Our top seven has worked very hard," Sorrells said.

WEST HALL BOYS — Senior Andy Martin, a seventh place finisher at region last year, is set to lead the No. 10-ranked Spartans. West Hall coach Sam Borg is also counting on big contributions from a pair of sophomores, Keegan Kyle and Josh Pendley. Kyle finished 15th at region (18:05.47) last year. Jairo Padilla, Alec Wells, Carl Aquino and Jimmy Gault are also going to be counted on if West Hall is going to continue its success in boys cross country.

WEST HALL GIRLS — Borg says that the Lady Spartans should be balanced this season, led by senior Liliana Cervantes. West Hall has all seven varsity runners back this season. The Lady Spartans coach is also counting on Kaylin Walters, Ansley Dobbs and April Gray to keep this program competitive in Region 7-AAA.

RIVERSIDE MILITARY — Eagles cross country coach Jim Myers hopes that they can be successful after making the transition to Region 8-AA from the Georgia Independent Schools Association. Leading the Eagles are first-year runner Wesley Kaye, Ronald Hilley and Landon Rowinski. Riverside Military also has freshman Alec Ruppenthal, a winner of several GISA meets last year at the prep level. Daniel Arenas, a sophomore, comes to the cross country team from the soccer field for the Eagles. Myers likes the element of surprise involved in participating at a new level. "We don’t know what the other teams in Region 8-AA have, and they don’t know what we have either," Myers said.

GAINESVILLE BOYS — The Red Elephants are coming off a successful 2007 season, only missing the state meet by two points. Gainesville won races last year at Pickens and Lumpkin County, which fosters optimism for a successful 2008 season. Aurelio Montano, a sophomore, was a second team All-Region selection after running a 17:34 at region last year, an eighth place finish. Joey Summer, Facundo Arroyo and Alan Aguirre add depth to Gainesville’s chances to make a run at a berth in state.

GAINESVILLE GIRLS — Claire Kannapell leads the Lady Red Elephants after recording a 22:46 last year at Region 7-AAA. Also returning for Gainesville are Hunter Lane, Anna Katherine Yager and Kelly Mattick. "We’re very optimistic about our team," Gainesville coach Jennifer Moore said. "We’re really young, but hope to continue to grow as the season goes along."

JOHNSON BOYS — Knights boys coach Michael Parker says his program is starting from the ground up to try and become successful. Oscar Navarrete, a senior, and Michael Kimbrell, a junior, are going to be the leaders for this young Johnson program. Parker is also counting on the contributions of his top freshman Edgar Ochoa and Gerardo Arcia.

CHESTATEE BOYS — War Eagles coach Michael Hughes cheerfully refers to the leaders of his program as the "Four Amigos and Corey." Twin brothers Diego and Martin Sanchez, Emmanuel Ibarra, Fidel Reyes and Corey Schrader are the anchors to this program. Reyes (18:12) and Schrader (18:26) were the top War Eagles finishers at region last season. Brett Mullins and Michael Feizet are going to be able to push the team leaders this season, Hughes said. Hughes leans on volunteer coach Wes Wessely to help with the structure and training of the Chestatee program.

CHESTATEE GIRLS — Kelsey Neukum leads the Lady War Eagles after a fifth place finish in Region 7-AAA (20:46) last season. Kathryn Barnett, Cara Martin, April Garcia, Rebecca Garcia and Melissa Reed help round out the top six for Chestatee.

NORTH HALL BOYS — Trojans first-year coach Jonathan Lillie feels like they have a shot at claiming the Region 7-AAA title in 2008. North Hall’s coach prides his program on their condition spending the summer running upward of 60 miles each week. Clark, Ty McCormack, Brandon Lawson, Cody Barger, Reese Walker and T.J. Fisher make up the nucleus of the Trojans. "Our team is in outstanding shape," Lillie said. "I think it would be hard for any other team to match our times."

NORTH HALL GIRLS — The Lady Trojans graduated two of the top 10 finishers at Region 7-AAA from last year’s cross country team. North Hall still has The Times 2006 Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year, Patrice Sweet, a junior, on board. Sweet finished ninth last season with a 21:20 at the region meet. Elizabeth Niedfeldt, Ansley Lawson, Sallie Davis, Sarah Harper and Connie Steinmann help make up the main pack for the Lady Trojans.

Regional events