Cross Country Team Previews

Cross country tends to be very strong in this area of the state. As the 2021 season is now upon us, we take a team-by-team look at the programs and what the outlook is this fall.

BANKS COUNTY

“Our expectations this year are to be competitive in our region and to place high in the state championship,” says new head coach Jeremy Steinacher.

GIRLS

Key Losses – Allison Clark, Jenna Reeves, Susanna Hewell, Jaden Hoard, Laura Davis
Key Returners – Alessandra Olivares, Emily Hunt, Taylor Cochran

BOYS

Key Losses – None
Key Returners – Buck Ledford, Troy Loggins, Pepper Davis, Chase Stephens, Bryson Banister, Nic Cotton, Grason Gordon

COMMERCE

The Commerce XC program is now under the direction of Thomas Pee, and he has a solid girls program returning its top two runners including Paden Bell, a 2-time Region/Area Champ and former State Runner-Up. The boys lose their top two in Brandon Martin (back-to-back State Champion) and JJ Morris, but have a few others that can lead to boys to a podium finish.

GIRLS

Key Losses – Carson Hawkins
Key Returners – Paden Bell, Ermay Vazquez

BOYS

Key Losses – Brandon Martin, JJ Morris
Key Returners – Josh Zelaya, Kade Morgan, Cayden Lord

DAWSON COUNTY

Dawson loses 3 of the top 20 runners in the state on the boys side, and will have new head coach Jonathan Tinsley. The girls are in great shape with a pair that placed inside the top 35 coming back.

GIRLS

Key Losses – Annie Gloeckner
Key Returners – Anna LeCave, Jules Phillips, Elizabeth Knight

BOYS

Key Losses – Luke Hamby, Wiley Dennis, Sam Hulsey, Brendan Swafford
Key Returners – Ethan Smith, Ryan McGinnis

HABERSHAM CENTRAL

No doubt the boys will miss region champion Andrew Kivett, but there are plenty of returners for them to have a solid season. The girls return Ella Reynolds to lead the way.

GIRLS

Key Losses – N/A
Key Returners – Ella Reynolds

BOYS

Key Losses – Andrew Kivett
Key Returners – Ryan Martin, Aiden Thaxton, Dominic Phongsavnh, Rucker Mills

JEFFERSON

GIRLS

Key Losses – Caitlin Schroeder, Sydney Bowles.
“These two were instrumental in our 2nd place podium finish at the state championships last year,” says coach Timothy Lees.

Key Returners – Katherine Law, Kiley Powell

“Returning this year are two key athletes in every sense of the term, Katherine Law who had a breakout year, running sub-18 in the 5k, sub-11 in the 3200 and sub-5 in the mile, and Kiley Powell who had a great season as a freshman running sub-20 in the 5k and then sub-12 in the 3200,” adds Lees.

“With our 2nd-place at state last year, we have some strong motivation by our girls to keep us running strong,” says Lees. “We have some runners coming in this year who didn’t run last year who may be able to help us out in replacing our two runners lost, but Katherine and Kiley will need to keep progressing while helping our otherfive girls work up to supplement their finishes. I’m expecting us to have a strong finish again this year, but the beginning of the season may show that there are some unexpected runners out there that we didn’t see coming. Even if that’s the case, I still expect that we will be a strong contender for a podium finish.”

BOYS

Key Losses – Levi Holliday
“We lost five out of our top seven runners who were seniors and have graduated, one of them being our number two, Levi Holliday,” says Lees.

Key Returners – Matthew Schroeder, Ben Davis
“Our number one and three runners, Mathew Schroeder and Ben Davis, respectively, are returning this year,” says Lees. “Matthew is a senior this year, but Ben is just a sophomore. The two of them work very well together at practice, so we are hoping for big things out of them both this season.”

“For five of my returning runners to step up in a big way to fill the shoes of the seniors for which we have lost,” states Lees. “After a 4th-place podium finish at the state championships last year, we are looking to keep that momentum going into this season. I’m expecting Mathew and Ben to lead these five new runners in honing their race strategy and helping them train to get us where we want to be this season. Until we (and all of our competition) have a race under our belts, it’s hard to make a prediction of where I think we’ll fall this year, but I sure hope it’s similar to last year.”

LUMPKIN COUNTY

Lumpkin County is set to add some young pieces, and hope to establish a great foundation for the future.

“We are adding a lot of young talent this year on both sides, and we want to use this year to grow and establish a winning tradition for our program,” says coach Logan Turner.

GIRLS

Key Losses – Caroline Rairigh, Julia Finesilver
Key Returners – Abbie Hilchie, Ryann Jones

“On the girls side we lost Caroline Rairigh who will be running at Presbyterian next year and Julia Finesilver,” says Turner. “For the girls we will have Abbie Hilchie and Ryann Jones returning.”

BOYS

Key Losses – Reece Butler
Key Returners – Ben Sherill, Jones Harris, Dolan Harder, Will Edwards

“We’re not losing a ton of our guys this year,” states Turner. “We did lose Reece Butler who was a solid runner last year who gave us a lot of heart and leadership.”

RABUN COUNTY

Rabun’s girls will lean heavily on Molly Jo Wright and Lucy Hood, so those two form a solid 1-2 punch. The boys have most of their key runners back, so the trajectory for both boys and girls is up.

GIRLS

Key Losses – Leonela Frias
Key Returners – Molly Jo Wright, Lucy Hood, Christina Gergeni

BOYS

Key Losses – N/A
Key Returners – Andrew Zafra, Ethan Mazarky, Chan Burrell

STEPHENS COUNTY

GIRLS

Key Losses – Lindsay Moore
Key Returners – Abby Burkhard (Sr), Lorelai Hamby (Sr), Akacia House (Jr), Carrie Keown (Sr), Gris Perez (So), Madison Strickland (Jr), Grace Witherspoon (Sr)

“We look forward to improving from last season,” says coach Chris Colwell. “The team made great improvements from the beginning of the season to the end of the season. With the team having a large senior class, I look forward to them qualifying for the state championships this season. They will be led by Grace Witherspoon and Madison Strickland.”

BOYS

Key Losses – River Duncan, Dawson Jordan, Matthew Viehweg
Key Returners – Cohen Anderson (Jr), Micah Burkhart (So), Ethan Cross (Jr), Braden Griffin (Jr), Austin Jones (Jr), Styles Jones (Jr), Tucker Kinsey (So), Jackson Moore (Jr), Navy Ott (Jr), Zane Pressley (Jr), Grady Sanders (Jr), Huntley Ward (Jr), Gavin Wilkinson (Jr), Carter Willet (Jr)

“I look forward to a very competitive cross country season this year,” says Colwell on the boys team. “The team looks to improve and make another push for the state championships. The team will be led by Grady Sanders who looks to improve on his time from last season.”

TALLULAH FALLS

“Our theme is ‘Earn it!’,” says coach Scott Neal. “Our ultimate goal is to bring home a trophy from state.”

GIRLS

Key Losses – None
Key Returners – Lucy Alexander, Jenna Chesser, Miranda Chapa, Caroline Ball, Emma Jackson, Dani Prince, newcomer Josie Chesser

BOYS

Key Losses – Grey Boulet, Collin Kelly
Key Returners – Evan Prince, Walker Bailey, Zhigao Henrry Xiong, Brit Shaw, Charlie Cody, Austin Ball

TOWNS COUNTY

Towns boys will have to rebuild with their top 4 runners gone. The girls have all top 4 back, so they’ll be seeking to challenge to finish on the podium.

GIRLS

Key Losses – N/A
Key Returners – Alison Markham, Jayden Taylor, Bazya Smith, Kayla Peacock

BOYS

Key Losses – Jenson Brown, Liam King, Jordan Lovelace, Luis Quijada,
Key Returners – Mason Yeamons

UNION COUNTY

Union’s girls are in great shape with all the key runners back for 2021. The boys lose a great deal of their leaders, so a lot of pressure falls on Zander Rotko and other younger runners to step up.

GIRLS

Key Losses – N/A
Key Returners – Hana Gregory, Campbell Chambers, Natalie Payne, Rachel Reid

BOYS

Key Losses – Luke Gambrell, Hunter Payne, Zach Jackson, Daniel Griggs
Key Returners – Zander Rotko

WHITE COUNTY

White County loses quality leaders in Sydnee Nix, Josie Stover, and Leah Alexander for the girls. However, the wealth of talent returning means there shouldn’t be a steep drop-off. The boys also hurt by losing long-time leader Eamonn O’Bryant, but most of the other key runners are back to lead the Warriors.

GIRLS

Key Losses – Sydnee Nix, Josie Stover, Leah Alexander
Key Returners – Nealeigh Broadwell, Lily Gearing, Reese Vandegriff, Ella Blair,

BOYS

Key Losses – Eamonn O’Bryant, Maverick Aguilar
Key Returners – Lance Kelley, Steven Petty, Logan Long, Cole Gearing, Isaac Sosebee

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