In the two years since Richard Corbett took over at the helm of the Gainesville cross country team, the Red Elephants have set a new standard of competitiveness at the state level. Gainesville’s boys and girls teams swept the Region 8-6A meet two weeks ago for the second consecutive season to earn automatic bids to the state meet this weekend. Both groups rank within the top 10 among Class 6A programs, giving each a legitimate chance at the podium come Friday.
Success is starting to become more expectation than goal for the Red Elephants, and the runners have responded well to the raised bar. Corbett said the team has taken a more “business-like” approach to preparation than last year, with both boys and girls squads angling for a top four finish rather than simply being happy to have qualified.
“Last year was a little more focused on training for region with state being the bonus,” Corbett said. “This year, I think we certainly wanted to repeat this region championship, but we didn’t back off our training. I think we’ve tapered well, and I think we’re prepared as best as we can.”
Teams from all over the area have their eyes on the podium at Carrollton this Friday or Saturday (depending on classification), with Gainesville, Johnson, North Hall and Cherokee Bluff all sending both boys and girls teams to the event and Chestatee and Riverside Military Academy qualifying to compete on the boys side.
Top four contention is relatively new air for the Red Elephants, particularly for the girls team that will be competing at state for only the second time in program history and will be relying on a few freshmen following injuries to upperclassmen runners.
A couple miles down the road at North Hall, being in the running for the podium at Carrollton is much more familiar territory.
The Trojans and Lady Trojans both brought home hardware last season, with third and fourth place finishes respectively at state, and despite a couple key losses to graduation, nothing much has changed in 2019.
Just a year removed from then-senior Devan Crow finishing first in all of Class 3A, North Hall’s Andrew Jones and Caylee Wagner have good shots to win the race on the boys and girls sides for the Trojans according to coach Sam Borg, who said the programs history of success has perpetuated his team’s winning ways.
“We always try to continue to raise the bar,” Borg said. “It’s how we work as humans. You see older guys and girls accomplish things, and when you’re young in the program, you believe you can do it too. So when the older guys are putting in the mileage, and you’re a freshman coming in, you don’t know any other way. You just follow that leadership. I think the culture of previous success helps the tradition continue.”
True to form, the Trojans swept boys and girls titles at the Region 7-3A meet last Wednesday, and will expect to put both teams on the podium for the second straight year.
Still, nothing is a given, and runners for North Hall, Gainesville, and every other local program slated to compete at state are ready for the step-up in competition at the season’s most important meet.
“The kids know what’s out there, and they know that this Saturday will be our biggest challenge,” Borg said.
Corbett said he’s hoping for top 10 finishes from both his teams but is taking nothing for granted.
With only one race remaining in a wholly successful season, Corbett said he’s simply hoping for his runners’ best shots this Friday.
“It’s going to take our best performance,” he said. “It really will.”