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Runners geared up for state championships
North Hall boys a top contender for team title in Class AAA
North Hall's Witt Nix heads for a third place finish at the Region 8-AAA championships at Unicoi State Park on Oct. 28 in Helen. The North Hall boys won and will look for a state title on Saturday in Carrollton. - photo by Tom Reed

Cross country
state championships

When: Saturday, Carrollton Elementary

When: 8:30 a.m., Class AA boys; 9 a.m., Class AA girls; 10 a.m., Class A boys; 10:30 a.m., Class A girls; 11:30 a.m., Class AAAAA boys; noon, Class AAAAA girls; 1 p.m., Class AAA boys; 1:30 p.m., Class AAA girls; 2:30 p.m., Class AAAA boys; 3 p.m., Class AAAA girls.

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Distance runners are adrenaline junkies by nature, but when they all come together for the state championships, it tends to bring the best out in everyone.

Teams and individuals from all corners of the state will run Saturday divided among all five classifications for the state championships at Carrollton Elementary.

As usual, this area, which is already known for its great distance running, will be expected to have some of the top individual and team finishers.

"We work all year to get ready for state," North Hall coach Drew Rogers said. "Everything we do is geared toward having our best race on the Saturday at state."

The atmosphere for the state championship is one of a kind.

Tents are packed in tight away from the course for teammates to talk and share pre-race strategy. Anxiety before running gives way to excitement when it is time to take to the starting line.

Then, all at once, runners start to jockey for position as soon as the starters shoots off the cap gun.

"Running at state is so much fun," said North Hall senior Brandon Lawson, the Region 8-AAA champion and a contender for the state title. "It's just something you have to experience firsthand."

In addition to state champions being crowned, the top 10 runners reach the podium and top four teams in each classification of boys and girls will take home trophies.

Every runner has a unique strategy for state. Some are just trying to get their best time, while others are trying to stay as close with teammates as possible.

With 10 separate races at state (five boys and five girls), nearly 200 runners will take to the starting line each time.

Still, the top local programs like their chances with all the preparation they've put in since the start of the summer.

"We feel like if we walk away with hardware at the end of the day, then we've had a good race," said Flowery Branch coach Jimmy Sorrells, who is taking both teams to state for the ninth consecutive year.

North Hall's boys and girls enter state both ranked third. Flowery Branch's boys are No. 3 in Class AAAA and No. 9 for the girls. In Class AA, it's a tight battle between No. 7 Jefferson, No. 8 Buford and No. 9 Dawson County.

In Class AAA, the girls are just as well represented with No. 6 West Hall and White County ranked ninth. In Class AA, Jackson County is fourth, Jefferson is ranked fifth, Buford is currently No. 8 and Dawson County is ranked ninth.

For most, training for state was complete as soon as region was finished.

After that, they all started tapering their workouts to have fresh legs for state.

"At this point in the season, you're trusting that what you've done for the past six months in training is going to get you through the state meet," said first-year White County coach Sam Borg, who qualified both his teams for state.

"The competition at state is really tough," said West Hall's Taylor Long, the Region 8-AAA champion with a time of 19 minutes, 25 seconds. "This is a meet that everyone takes very seriously."

With so much quality competition, Sorrells has found the best formula is to bridge the gap between his No. 1 and No. 5 runners, with a goal of hopefully helping improve everyone's time.

Flowery Branch's boys won the Region 8-AAAA championship on Oct. 29, while the Lady Falcons placed second.

Flowery Branch's coach is most eager to see his three senior boys runners (Drew Garland, Luis Teran and Cody Papp) have one last strong run together.

"They've all invested a lot of time into the program and hope they all have a great race," Sorrells said.

Meanwhile, the Lady Falcons are much younger and looking to improve on a 19th place finish at Carrollton in 2010.

Sorrells, like most other coaches, built his entire schedule around getting to state as well prepared as possible.

Some local runners are headed to state to compete individually.

Gainesville's Sara Hayes, a sophomore, qualified for state by finishing fourth overall in Region 8-AAA with a time of 19 minutes, 58.75 seconds. Her goal is to break the 19:40 mark at state.

"I'm pretty pumped for state," Hayes said. "I want to get a Top 10 finish and set a new PR (personal record)."

Lawson, who broke the region record on Oct. 27 by 30 seconds with a time of 15:40, leads a team that will be in the running for the Class AAA team title.

His teammate Luis Gonzalez also broke the region record with a time of 16 minutes. Led by the top five individual finishers at region, North Hall's boys will be in a close battle against St. Pius X and Woodward Academy for the team title.

"We've all been very close all year," Rogers said. "Our No. 1 matches up with their No. 1, No. 2 with No. 2, and all the way down.

"It should be a great race."


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