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Region championships ahead for cross country teams
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Region 8-AAA championships

When: Thursday, 4:45 p.m. boys, 5:30 p.m. girls

Where: Unicoi State Park, Helen

The region cross country race is the biggest of the season for many runners. Without being a part of one of the top four teams in the boys or girls race, or either a top-six individual finisher, there is no trip to the state championship meet Nov. 5 in Carrollton.

Thursday, runners from Region 8-AAA schools will converge for their meet at the challenging 5-kilometer course nestled in the mountains at Unicoi State Park, just north of Helen. Meanwhile, Flowery Branch is looking to get both teams back to state with its region 8-AAAA championship Saturday at the Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers.

“For years, it’s been my emphasis to get the team ready all season to run well at region,” said Flowery Branch coach Jimmy Sorrells, who has qualified every boys and girls team at the school for state since 2003. “In cross country, it’s different than other sports because you don’t keep a win-loss record.”

The elite runners on the boys side are running in the 16- to 17-minute range, while the top girls are finishing in under 20 minutes.

In Region 8-AAA, it’s unanimous among coaches that North Hall and West Hall are the two best teams by a fairly sizable margin. However, it could get interesting with Oconee County, White County, Stephens County, Gainesville and Lanier all in the middle looking to grab the third and fourth spots to state.

Despite graduating 2010 state champion Cody Barger, No. 3 North Hall has senior Brandon Lawson, with a personal best time of 16 minutes, 5 seconds, and Luis Gonzalez, just three seconds back, leading the way. They’re expected to be the top two boys to cross the finish line. The Trojans also have substantial depth with Witt Nix, Tucker LoCicero, Bryce Schuebert, Jared Lee, Luis Galvan and Zack Hill all running at least one sub-18 minute race this year.

The Trojans boys won races at West Hall, the War Eagle Invitational, Hall County and Mountain Invitational this year.

“Our boys have been consistently good all year and we expect to win region on our way to competing for one of the top spots at state,” North Hall coach Drew Rogers said.

The Flowery Branch boys, currently No. 3 in Class AAAA, have four runners with personal best times under 17 minutes this season: Taylor Fiorello, Drew Garland, Luis Teran and Nick Ashmead. On the girls side, Sorrells is pleased with the Lady Falcons’ depth and the fact that he has nine runners who have finished under 21 minutes this season, and two runners who have finished under 20 during the same season for the first time in school history.

Megan Kirk and Kayla Robles both ran a sub-20-minute race at the Wendy’s Invitational in Charlotte, N.C. earlier this season. Brittany Wells, Lauren Kirk and Hannah Kirk also provide good depth for Flowery Branch’s girls, who currently rank No. 9 in Class AAAA.

“We have tremendous depth on our girls team,” Sorrells said.

The West Hall boys are probably the biggest challenger to North Hall. Jimmy Gault, Junior Iniguez and Brandon Nguyen have each finished under 18 minutes this season. The Lady Spartans are also strong at the top with Taylor Long, the winner at the Last Chance Invitational last Saturday, Ryan Sharry and Savannah Smith under the 21-minute mark this season.

After North Hall and West Hall, the battle is tight for the next two spots to state. The Chestatee boys plan to be in the hunt for a state berth with Jason Dang, Jose Reyes and Jeremy Gross all averaging under 19 minutes in each race this year. The War Eagles have some depth with Alex Bache, Bart Velasquez, Abraham Pena and Caleb Harlon providing a solid top seven to get six best times for the team.

Gainesville is led by sophomore Marcquel Woodard and freshman Tanner Peacock, both in the 18-minute range this season, and White County is led by senior Levi Fangmann and freshman Austin Thompson, both under the 18-minute mark this year.

“With the dominance of North Hall and West Hall, the fight for third and fourth place should prove to be really tight, with several schools such as White County, Oconee County, Stephens County, Gainesville and Johnson,” Chestatee coach Mark Dunn said. “The dark horse for this course could be Lanier.

“The positioning for third and fourth will be the exciting aspect for this region meet in 2011.”

In the Region 8-AAA girls race, the talent is more spread out among the best runners. White County’s Jessie Dotson, the defending champion, and West Hall’s Long have gone back and forth winning races this season. North Hall’s Victoria Rogers (19:40 PR) could also be in the mix, along with Gainesville sophomore Sara Hayes, who has finished in the top five in six of seven races this season. Chestatee’s Sara Beth English has also had a strong season with an average time of 21:19.

With the talent relatively even, North Hall coach Drew Rogers expects a close race for the title between the Lady Trojans, West Hall and White County.

“I expect another close race with those two schools,” Rogers said. “Both of those schools have some very good runners.”

For North Hall, Madison Van Dyke, Katie McDowell, Laura Mancin, April Barth, Makayla Ellis and McCree Milford all give the squad good depth and a shot at the region title. Meanwhile, White County coach Sam Borg says that Kristen Mitchell, Summer Campbell, Megan Norris, Cheyanna Norris and Shelby Carder have also been solid for his squad.

Chestatee is also strong with depth led by Shelby Bennett, Paige Williams, Yaritza Carrillo and Sadie Foote. Dunn says that Maggee Wilson and Tori Mullinax will be back in the race and healthy after previous injuries.

“Our team may have just enough will power to pull an upset and return to state,” Dunn said.

The all-classification state cross country meet is Nov. 5 at Carrollton Elementary.

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