After several months of training and road work, the White County cross country teams are finally nearing the starting line for the 2020 season.
The WCHS girls and boys' teams got a little work during August, participating in a 2-mile time trial in Acworth. But the real season begins in earnest next week at the North Hall Invitational.
First-year head coach Carrie Vandegriff said the runners are ready to get started.
“We've definitely been working hard and the kids are ready for a change in the schedule,” Vandegriff said. They are looking forward to competing. We're really excited about the going to North Hall on Sept. 10.”
Vandegriff and the WCHS runners bring a lot of optimism into the 2020 season. The Lady Warriors boast a core group of experienced runners ready to make another run at a Top 10 finish at the Class AAA state meet. The Warriors have their top runner back from last season in Eamonn O'Bryant, and have some young talent on the roster as they get set to take on some new teams in Region 7-AAA.
“We've got a lot of depth on the girls' team,” Vandegriff said. “They run in a tight pack and really push each other. There aren't a lot teams that have the ability to run in a pack. We don't have as many boys depth-wise, but we have some good young guys, so we're excited about them too.”
The girls' team returns a lot of faces from the 2019 team which placed fifth in the Class AAAA meet. Sydnee Nix, Josie Stover, Lily Gearing, and Reese Vandegriff all competed in the state meet, with Nix posting the top time at 21:23 to finish 27th overall. Stover was 43rd last year at state, while Gearing was 56th, and Vandegriff crossed the line in 59th place.
Those four, along with Nealeigh Broadwell, LaRue Campbell, and Ella Blair are settled in the top seven spots in the varsity lineup. Broadwell was one of the team's top runners last fall before seeing her season end with stress fracture late in the regular season schedule.
Campbell is back with the team after not running since her freshman year, while Blair is making her first appearance in the varsity rotation.
“Our core girls all have experience,” Vandegriff said. “They have all been training hard and they look strong and they have a lot of confidence. Nealeigh was running well last year before she suffered the stress fracture, and it's good to have LaRue back with us this year.”
Other runners set to compete for varsity and JV spots are Leah Alexander, Haylie Bailey, Aidan Cope, Lydia Davidson, Lydia Durden, and Riley Robinson.
The boys' lineup will be filled with a lot of new faces this year, but they have a leader in senior Eamonn O'Bryant to help the young squad navigate it's way through the season.
O'Bryant was the lone WCHS runner to compete in the boy's state meet last year, posting a time of 17:28 to finish 20th overall.
“He's definitely our leader,” Vandegriff said. “He works so hard and he's running faster than he did last year. He's a leader on and off the field, and we're looking forward to him having a great year.”
Maverick Aguilar and Lance Kelly were both regulars in the Warriors' lineup last year, and Vandegriff expects both of them to post improved times this fall. Isaac Sosebee was a part of the program last year and is expected to be a varsity contributor this fall, along with newcomer Charlie Bailey.
Cole Gearing and Logan Long are both currently in the top seven runners looking to earn a spot in the varsity rotation.
“Eamonn, Maverick, Lance, Isaac and Charlie are our top five right now, and Cole and Logan are right there for the next two spots,” Vandegriff said. “Maverick and Lance are pushing hard to stay with Eamonn. Isaac ran some vasrsity and JV last year, and Charlie was injured. For these younger guys, it's a big jump to the varsity level, but the guys are working extremely hard to get ready.”
Other runners on the boys' squad are Wyatt Churcwell, Judice Jackson, Steven Petty, and Dakota Seabolt.
The WCHS runners have been running against some powerhouse programs in the region over the past few years like Marist, Blessed Trinity and Denmark, but no longer have to worry about the private school teams with the move down to Class AAA.
But moving down a classification doesn't mean things will be easy. Cherokee Bluff (6th), North Hall (7th), Dawson County (9th) and Lumpkin County (16th) all placed in the Top 16 teams at the Class AAA meet last season.
The boy's side of the new region looks pretty competitive as well. North Hall (4th), Dawson County (5th), Cherokee Bluff (13th) were state meet teams last year, and figure to be the top three teams coming into the new year.
The Warriors will battle Gilmer County, Lumpkin County, and West Hall to get into the top four and earn a state bid.
“It's a very competitive region,” Vandegriff said.