Cross Country Previews – 2020

There’s no proven great way for us to do Power Rankings or anything of the sort for our local cross country programs. That’s largely due to the mix of classifications represented, etc. However, we can preview the programs based on some data, and where some of the coaches gave us the proper insight. See below for each school’s outlook (alpha order):

BANKS COUNTY

COACH: Will Foster, 7th Season

“In 2020 we expect to be competitive on the state level,” says coach Foster. “We can only control what we are doing and we are doing what we think will prepare us best to compete on a tough course in Carrolton. If what we got to experience during our abbreviated track season was any indicator, I know we have the talent to compete with the top teams in our region and classification.”

BOYS

The Leopards are just three years removed from a state championship in 2017. 2018 they finished 3rd, and 4th in 2019. They have taken four straight region championships during that dynasty run. Gone is state and region champion Griffin Stephens, who will be absolutely impossible to replace (at least we think so). Three other varsity runners are gone in Patrick Angel, John Coggins, and Riley Banks. Buck Ledford returns as a junior after placing 3rd at region and 20th at state. He is one of four coming back with varsity experience, including Nic Cotton and sophomores Bryson Banister and Troy Loggins. Newcomers Chase Stephens and Pepper Davis will also compete. Both were top 15 at the 2019 middle school cross country championship.

GIRLS

The Lady Leopards have also had great success as of late, with a runner-up finish at state in 2017, and coming in 4th in both 2018 and 2019. That stretch saw the girls win a pair of region titles, and finishing as runner-up last season. Destinie Martin was one of the leaders last season, finishing 23rd at state and 9th in region. She has graduated along with Anna Parker (15th region; 33rd state). So that means the top two are gone. However, five of the top seven are back. Alessandra Olivares (junior) is back after coming in 12th in region and 36th at state, and so is Jenna Reeves (senior; 13th region, 35th state). Banks also returns Alli Clark and Sophie Black, both seniors, as well as sophomore Taylor Cochran and junior Emily Hunter. They’re all ready to step into greater roles.

“The main focus of our season will be to develop our young talent,” adds Foster. “We have very young teams and this season we will work to build those athletes and prepare them to compete at a high level. The scene in AA has changed and we are working to raise our level of competition to be ready to compete against all of AA in November.”

COMMERCE

COACH: Mark Hale, 9th Season

BOYS

The Tigers are coming off a season that saw them win a state championship in 1A. That was preceded by a runner-up team finish in 2018. The boys preceded that with an area championship. Gone is Demarco Hernandez (now at Emmanuel), a program great who was the state runner-up and area runner-up in 2019. Taking his place will be Brandon Martin, a senior who actually was the area and state champion, just edging his teammate in both last year. Martin will likely lead this team to another podium finish in 2020. JJ Morris (5th at state), senior Dominic Ricci, juniors Kade Morgan, Josh Zelaya, Peyton McClure, and Andrew Pascucelli will help keep this program competitive top to bottom.

“The focus is trying to replace Demarco,” says Hale. “Staying safe and healthy during this fall school year also. The expectation is to attempt a repeat as area champions and state champions.”

GIRLS

The Commerce girls were runner-up at state last year, the fourth such finish for the program since 2014. They were third in area as well. They are so close to taking the top spot, and will go as last year’s freshman phenom Paden Bell goes. Now a sophomore, Bell was the area champion and state runner-up last year, and had 8 top-10 finishes. The girls lose recent seniors Yami Vazquez and Keila Osorio, but return Bell, Ermay Vazquez, Hannah English, and Rachel English.

“The main goal is to build some depth, and continue developing our young runners,” adds Hale, who also points to staying safe and healthy during the season. “We are trying to develop a team that is capable of winning area and state championships.”

DAWSON COUNTY

COACH: Charles Beusse, 8th Season

BOYS

The Tigers came in the top 10 at state for the sixth straight season, extending the most prolific era of Dawson County boys cross country in history, all under Beusse. Last year, the boys finished 5th at state and 2nd in region. This year will be tough, as mainstays Collin Kilgore (South Carolina), who was the region runner-up and state 10th place runner, as well as Ben McGinnis (Augusta State; region 3rd; state 11th) are both gone. Someone will have to step up and fill HUGE shoes. That will be returners Sam Hulsey, Brendan Swafford, Ethan Smith, Luke Hamby, and Wiley Dennis.

“With the loss of key leaders, Ben McGinnis and Collin Kilgore, one of our focuses early on will be establishing strong senior leadership for this team,” says Beusse. “We have a strong group of returning runners on the men’s team and several of them have really turned a corner in terms of athletic ability and maturity since last season. Maturity and the ability to lead, especially in what could be an unprecedented season given the challenges schools are currently facing, will be critical in ensuring success for this group of young men.”

Beusse expects the boys to be capable of a region title and being top three at state. The “IF” is keeping everyone healthy and consistency in training. Beusse adds, “I believe this team will surprise some people later in the year.”

GIRLS

The girls’ side also loses great talent in Evion Reinhardt (region 7th, state 40th) and Jenna Lecours (region 14th, state 51st), Avery Young, and Bri Ray. They finished 9th as a team at state and 3rd in region. Celine Sapp, Anna LeCave, Elizabeth Knight, Jules Phillips, Lauren Dye all will be returning this season and counted on heavily.

“Youth will be the theme for us this season on the girl’s team,” says Beusse. “However, I am very excited about the potential present in this group. We don’t have a large group of veteran runners, but we will rely heavily on the leadership of those we have. Early in the season, our focus will be on exposing our young runners to high levels of competition and preparing them for the challenges they will face later in the year. While this is a young team as a whole, I have utmost confidence in them. They have consistently proved themselves at the middle school and JV levels in recent years and I believe that they are ready to take the next step into varsity competition.”

Just like the boys, Beusse thinks this team has the ability to fight for a region title and be a top contender at state.

“The work ethic of the girl’s team is very high and I am excited to see where that leads them,” adds Beusse. “Though young, this group may be one of the most driven girl’s teams I have ever had the opportunity to coach. The future is very bright for girl’s cross country at DCHS.”

HABERSHAM CENTRAL

COACH: Karen Hinson, 8th Season

BOYS

The Raiders came in 16th at state last season after a 4th place region finish. The team takes a big hit with the loss of Thomas Hotard (area runner-up, state runner-up), who might be one of the best to run at Habersham in quite some time.

GIRLS

The Lady Raiders didn’t field much of a team last season in terms of numbers, therefore didn’t qualify for state or even an official team placement at region. Ella Reynolds (junior) returns after coming in 21st at region.

JEFFERSON

COACH: Brady Sigler, 5th Season

BOYS

The Dragons came in 6th in 2019 at state, and were the region champions. Back for his junior year is Matthew Schroeder (region runner-up, state 8th). Jefferson could have placed in the top three had they had the services of recent graduate Riley Thornton, who in 2018 was a beast.

GIRLS

The Lady Dragons dominated, finishing easily as region champs, and came in 4th at state. They are still young and talented, and have to be title frontrunners with the return of junior Katerine Law (region champion, state 11th) and senior Caitlin Schroeder (region runner-up, state 15th) as one of the top one-two punches around.

LUMPKIN COUNTY

COACH: Nicky Jenkins

BOYS

Last season, the boys placed 5th at region and did not qualify for state. Kyle Trammell, Jorge Romero, and Laken Ferrell are all gone as the top three runners, but coming back will be Will Edwards, Westley Adams, Sam Gooch, and Camden Dover. The goals: “Both teams make top 4 in region and qualify for state,” states Jenkins. “That will not be easy as 7-AAA is good from top to bottom.”

GIRLS

The Lady Indians came in 4th at region and 16th at state a year ago, and return two of their top five runners, Abbie Hilchie and Caroline Rairigh. Tatum Coulter also will be relied upon. Gone are Elivia Garcia, Tatianna Lovell, and Emily Martinez. The main focus: “Replace what we lost to graduation on both teams,” says Jenkins.

RABUN COUNTY

COACH: April Adcock, 2nd Season

BOYS

The Wildcats came in 5th in region last year, just missing the cut for state. They’ll be without front runner Lazero Garcia (21st region).

GIRLS

The girls had a great showing at state last season, coming in 6th after a 3rd place finish at region. Molly Jo Wright had a great freshman year (7th at region, 18th at state) and should be better in her sophomore campaign.

STEPHENS COUNTY

COACH: N/A

BOYS

The Indians came in 5th in region last season. Grady Sanders will return as a sophomore after placing 21st at region last season.

GIRLS

The Lady Indians also finished 5th in region last year. Anna Ashe has moved on after coming in 24th at region.

TALLULAH FALLS

COACH: Scott Neal, 22nd Season

BOYS

The Indians return great skill with Evan Prince (area 3rd, state 5th) leading the way, as well as Grey Bourlet and Walker Bailey. Though they will miss Chris Geiger from last year’s 9th place state finishing team (and 4th in area), the future is bright.

“The external goal is to place higher at state and to improve significantly from last year,” says Neal. “Internal team quests are to strengthen fortitude together, develop distinct leadership and role accountability, and create fun! The goal is to utilize the external and internal goals to create a consistent discipline that is the motivation to see how good each member and the team can be.”

GIRLS

The girls squad finished 4th at area and 12th at state last season, and lose their top runner in Sophie Alexander (area 9th, state 38th). However, Lucy Alexander is back (area 13th, state 36th), as well as Emma Jackson, Kate Trotter, and Jenna Chesser (freshman). The main focus for the girls is to improve pacing, pain management, and daily encouragement to do one’s best for the team, and to figure out how to make fortitude fun and provide legacy-leaving leadership opportunities.

“We want to build upon last year’s historic season by forging together, creating memorable opportunities, and leaving grateful for a season with life long lessons, personal satisfaction, and team success,” states Neal.

TOWNS COUNTY

COACH: Tim Rosser, 3rd Season

BOYS

The Indians came in 4th at state last season, their best finish since 2015. They placed runner-up in the area as well. Jensen Brown (area 6th, state 11th) and Liam King (area 5th, state 8th) to lead the team to more success as seniors this time around.

GIRLS

The girls were 5th at state, and 4th in area in 2019. Alison Markham (junior, area 6th, state 10th) returns to anchor the program.

UNION COUNTY

COACH: Paige Dyer, 5th Season

BOYS

The Panthers, just two years removed from a 2018 state title, were runner-up a year ago at state. The boys finished third at region last year also. They lose Thomas Mellendorf, Guage Shumaker, and Marucus Forrester, but return Luke Gambrell (region runner-up, state 4th), Hunter Hartzog (region 7th, state 11th), Malachi Patrick, Trevor Guild, and Hunter Payne, as well as some up and comers.

GIRLS

The girls were 9th at state last season after finishing 4th in region. They lose perhaps the best in Union County history in two-time state champion Zoe Sanchez as well as Sadie Underwood, Lexi Ochoa, Jessie Holbrook, and Allison Vincent. Returners are Hana Gregory, Campbell Chambers, Rachel Reid, and Katelynn Rash, as well as some promising new runners.

The focus will be on endurance, speed, and integrity for both squads. “The new region alignment will be interesting,” says Dyer. “We want to do well at region and state; there are a lot of potential/possibilities.”

WHITE COUNTY

COACH: Carrie Vandegriff, 1st Season

BOYS

The Warriors were sixth in region last year, and qualified one individual for state. They’ll return senior Eamonn O’Bryant (region 6th, state 20th).

GIRLS

The Lady Warriors came in 5th at state, making it four years in a row with a top-five finish. They finished third at region. There is a lot to like about this team, including the return of Nealeigh Broadwell (sophomore) and Sydnee Nix (senior, 14th region, 27th state). While Ellie Gearing will certainly be missed, there’s enough talent to make a repeat (or better) finish.

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