Friday’s Region 7-AAA cross country championship will come with its own set of unique challenges.
The main hurdle is no longer the steep hills and tight turns at the previous host site of Unicoi State Park in Helen. During this year’s event, on the course at Gainesville State College, runners will be more focused on avoiding mud puddles and slick spots as a result of heavy rains Tuesday.
To compound the conditions, there’s also a slight chance of rain for race day.
"It’s going to be a muddy, mucky mess," Flowery Branch coach Jimmy Sorrells said.
Former White County coach Jonathan Sutton coordinated the race in year’s past at Unicoi. The change in venue came as a result of a coaching turnover this season and the new Warriors coach not feeling qualified enough to coordinate such a large-scale event, said North Hall coach Patricia Zaudtke.
The course at Gainesville College was decided on through a "democratic process" of voting, and a look at availability for possible race locations, said Sorrells.
The new host site at Gainesville State College comes with some advantages. First, it is a fan-friendly site, with the course set up for allowing spectators to view the race. And runners will not be shoulder-to-shoulder, which was a concern when running the race at Unicoi.
"You need space with 14 teams running," Sorrells said.
Secondly, many of the schools in Region 7-AAA are quite familiar with this new location in Oakwood since it is the same site of the Coach Wood Invitational which was run two weeks ago.
The region championships were bumped back to Friday because of the region finals for the One-Act Play taking place today.
Also, accessibility at Gainesville State College’s parking lot would be easier to accommodate the expected crowd on a Friday afternoon as opposed to Thursday when classes are in session.
Of course, it doesn’t matter the day the race is run, the action will be the center of attention.
Region 7-AAA is home to some of the best cross country in the state, with five boys teams ranked in the top 10 (No. 1 Flowery Branch, No. 2 North Hall, No. 5 Lambert, No. 7 Creekview and No. 9 West Forsyth) and four of the top 10 on the girls side (No. 1 Lambert, No. 2 Flowery Branch, No. 4 Creekview and No. 9 West Forsyth).
With so many good teams, there’s not that many spots for the Nov. 7 state meet in Carrollton to go around. The top four teams on the boys and girls side each advance to state.
Also, any runner that finishes in the top six overall and doesn’t qualify with their team earns an individual berth to state.
"Region 7-AAA could have a team finish fifth at region and not qualify for state, but would be good enough to finish in the top 10 at state," Sorrells said. "This region is that tough.
"Whoever wins state is going to come out of Region 7-AAA."
"This race is going to be one to see," Zaudtke said. "We have a very competitive region."
The North Hall boys will probably be short one of their better runners at region with Reese Walker sidelined with a fever. Cody Barger has a stress fracture for the Trojans but will likely still run, says Zaudtke.