Cross Country Team Previews
Though cross country has long been a strength for our North Georgia programs, there’s no denying that last year’s senior standouts will be sorely missed in 2022. That said, there’s always someone seemingly ready to step up and become the next great harrier!
Banks County comes off a season in which the boys were 5th and girls 16th at the state meet. Buck Ledford (State Runner-Up, Region Champion) graduates from the boys region title winner. Pepper Davis returns as a senior leader, and will be a region title favorite early on. The Lady Leopards, who placed 4th at region, return junior leader Maggie Irvin, who was 14th in the region.
Key Losses – Alessandra Olivares, Emily Hunt
Key Returners – Maggie Irvin (79th/14th), Taylor Cochran
Key Losses – Buck Ledford, Bryson Banister, Nic Cotton
Key Returners – Pepper Davis (15th/3rd), Chase Stephens (NA/7th), Troy Loggins Nic Cotton, Grason Gordon
Commerce boys were 4th at state and 3rd in region, while the girls were 6th and 4th, respectively. The Tigers’ top runner Peyton McClure is gone, as well as two other top runners. Cayden Lord (14th at state) will be the undisputed leader early on as a senior now. The Lady Tigers will return top runner Paden Bell (4th at state, region champion), and Ermay Vazquez (region runner-up, state 6th) is back as well. That bodes well for the girls!
Key Losses – N/A
Key Returners – Paden Bell (4th/Region Champ), Ermay Vazquez (6th/Region RU)
Key Losses – Peyton McClure (11th/5th), Kade Morgan, Josh Zelaya
Key Returners – Cayden Lord (14th/9th)
Dawson’s boys were 11th at state, led by Ethan Smith (18th, region 4th), who has graduated. The boys were 3rd at region, while the girls were 5th, falling just short of state. Anna LeCave (8th at region) is back to lead the girls as a junior, along with classmates Jules Phillips and Elizabeth Knight.
Key Losses – N/A
Key Returners – Anna LeCave (NA/8th), Jules Phillips, Elizabeth Knight
Key Losses – Ethan Smith (18th/4th), Ryan McGinnis
Key Returners – N/A
The Lady Raiders used the elite running of now sophomore Audrey Hotard (region champion) to a 5th place finish at region, and Hotard was 12th at state. The Raiders didn’t qualify for state, but Ryan Martin (10th at region) is back for his senior year to lead the boys. Aiden Thaxton and Dominic Phongsavnh as well.
Key Losses – N/A
Key Returners – Audrey Hotard (12th/Region Champion), Abigail Hotard
Key Losses – Rucker Mills
Key Returners – Ryan Martin (NA/10th), Aiden Thaxton, Dominic Phongsavnh
Key Losses – Katherine Law (5th/Region Champion), Emily Byrd
Key Returners – Kiley Powell (16th/3rd), Lauren Hailey (NA/10th) & rising stars Hannah Schroeder, Josie Fuller
“A bit of a rebuilding year this year,” says coach Timothy Lees. “With Katherine and Emily graduated, we need some new runners to really step up their game. I had a very small girls team last year, I couldn’t even field a complete JV squad. Some rising freshmen who ran well their 8th grade year could fill those gaps, but only time will tell what the move from 3K to 5K will do to them. My key returners and key rising stars have been consistent in their summer training, but like the boys, to be in the top spots overall, you need a solid 5 runners. I would predict us to be a competitive team this year, I think the girls I have now are going to grow tremendously, but this early in the year with such a new team, it’s hard to make a prediction on where we’ll end up in November. It would be a great accomplishment to get both of my teams on the podium again in Carrollton like we did last year in this new classification, but I would be just as happy to see a consistent level of growth and progression in my girls, and a decent size jump in numbers for the girls team overall, which will set us up for even better success in the future.”
Key Losses – Matthew Schroeder (5th/Region Champion), Nate Ferguson (NA/10th), Luke Ranalli
Key Returners – Ben Davis (20th/6th), Garrison Lee, Brock Brush & rising star Austin Click
“The boys have been working hard this summer, however, moving to AAAAA presents a whole new level of difficulty,” admits Lees. “Our boys will still be a competitive group, and have the potential to make a podium finish at state this year if we can bring up a solid 5th place. From the running I have seen over the summer, we have a strong 1-4. But at this level, we need a strong 5th too.”
“With both teams placing at the top four in region and making it to state last year, we have really high expectations of ourselves,” states coach Logan Turner. “Our new region has not gotten any easier, so we can never be satisfied with our position in the region. For both the girls and guys, we hope to place towards the top of our region, and we expect both teams to perform really well at state.”
Key Losses – Abbie Hilchie (15th/6th), Kelly Cronan, Kathryn Christian (transferring out)
Key Returners – Ryann Jones, Alexis Daughtery,
“On the girl’s side we’re losing one of our best runners in Abbie Hilchie who had a huge impact in her last season,” says Turner. “We’re also losing some leadership in Kelly Cronan who was typically in our top five. We’re losing one of our rising stars in Kathryn Christian who’s transferring to another district. We’ll be returning Alexis Daughtery (12) who made it into our top three last year, and we’re also bringing back Ryann Jones (11) who was injured for a large part of the last season but plans on being one of our top three runners this year.”
Key Losses – Will Edwards
Key Returners – Wyatt Windham (32nd/6th), Ben Sherill (55th/10th)
“On the guy’s side we’re not really losing a lot other than Will Edwards who was a solid top five guy for us, and we’re also losing a lot of leadership with him,” adds Turner. “We’re returning pretty much everyone in our top seven. Ben Sherrill (11) and Wyatt Windham (10) are going to be key for us going into this season. They both had outstanding seasons last year, and they’ve been putting in a ton of work as has everyone else.”
Rabun County’s girls were the region champs a year ago, while the boys were 4th. The girls went on to place 7th at state, while the boys came in 17th. The Lady Cats return Molly Jo Wright (15th at state, Region Champion) for her senior year, as well as junior Lucy Hood (37th/4th). Christina Gergeni returns as well, so the girls are stacked. The boys’ leader was Bo Anderson (80th/10th) and GB Anderson (82nd/NA).
Key Losses – N/A
Key Returners – Molly Jo Wright, Lucy Hood, Christina Gergeni
Key Losses – Bo Anderson (80th/10th), Andrew Zafra, Chan Burrell
Key Returners – GB Anderson (82nd), Ethan Mazarky
The boys come off a year in which Grady Sanders (23rd at state, Region RU) led them to an 18th place finish at state. They were 4th at region. Sanders is back for his senior year, and no one graduated from last year’s group. The girls didn’t make state, but had Grace Witherspoon (11th at region) as a leader. She graduates, however.
Key Losses – Grace Witherspoon (NA/11th), Abby Burkhard, Lorelai Hamby, Carrie Keown
Key Returners – Akacia House, Gris Perez, Madison Strickland
Key Losses – None
Key Returners – Grady Sanders (23rd/Region RU), Cohen Anderson, Micah Burkhart, Ethan Cross, Braden Griffin, Austin Jones, Styles Jones, Tucker Kinsey, Jackson Moore, Navy Ott, Zane Pressley, Huntley Ward, Gavin Wilkinson, Carter Willet
With longtime standouts Evan Prince (Navy, 2-time region champion) and Lucy Alexander (3-time state qualifier) gone, there are immediate openings for the next great runner at TFS. Still, the expectation is always high for both teams.
Key Losses – Lucy Alexander, Caroline Ball
Key Returners – Jenna Chesser, Josie Chesser (49th/10th), Miranda Chapa, Dani Prince
“Our overall foundation is always to create a Season of Significance,” says coach Scott Neal. “The working theme for this season will be ‘Disciplined Fire’, which portrays a relentless quest to Be GREAT by developing a culture where discipline is a good habit to help each person’s fire grow and be utilized as a source of positive impact and influence. Team leaders will actively create this culture by utilizing distinct leadership opportunities, exploring mountain trails and waterfalls during training runs, bond for lifetime by designing numerous themed practice days and traditions, and to be a light for each other. We strongly believe this engaging process will lead to memories that last a lifetime. This group of girls seems to fuel each other.”
Key Losses – Evan Prince (3rd at State/Region Champion)
Key Returners – Jackson Shadburn, Canon Brooks, Timothy Beck
“Every year, the overall culture of ‘Be GREAT’ along the way to a ‘Season of Significance’ is expected,” states Neal. “This team’s focus will be on the moment-to-moment and day-to-day discipline and proactive choice to be uncomfortable in training, in team situations, in taking chances, and in purposeful actions to create intentional outcomes. The quality of sacrifice – or exchanging things that are worth less for outcomes that are worth more – will be ongoing and led by the runners while in pursuit to see who we can become as a team.”
Towns County’s girls made state last season and were 8th, while Alison Markham placed 7th there and top-10 at region. Jayden Taylor was 3rd at region, as the team also came in 3rd there. The boys were 5th, narrowly missing state despite Curtis Markham (7th) running well.
Key Losses – Alison Markham (7th/10th), Bazya Smith, Kayla Peacock
Key Returners – Jayden Taylor (NA/3rd)
Key Losses – N/A
Key Returners – Curtis Markham (NA/7th), Mason Yeamons
Both Union teams were region runner-up. Hunter Hartzog (Region RU) and Benton Gregory (5th), as well as Zander Rotko (9th) led the efforts there. The girls were led at region by Hana Gregory (Region RU), Ellie Adams (3rd), Allie Brey (7th), Lydia Wagner (8th), and Natalie Payne (9th) for an unreal 5 in the top 10. The girls were 8th at state, led by Ashley Shipes (25th). Gregory led the boys to a 14th-place finish at state, as he came in 36th. Rotko was 59th.
Key Losses – Hana Gregory (NA/Region RU), Allie Brey (NA/7th), Campbell Chambers, Rachel Reid
Key Returners – Ellie Adams (NA/3rd), Natalie Payne (NA/9th), Lydia Wagner (NA/8th), Ashley Shipes (25th/NA)
Key Losses – Hunter Hartzog (NA/Region RU)
Key Returners – Zander Rotko (59th/9th), Benton Gregory (NA/5th)
White County’s girls were 6th at state a year ago, as Nealeigh Broadwell (9th), Emma Lightsey (20th), and Lily Gearing (21st) shined. They were region runner-up as a team. Broadwell was 5th, Gearing 7th, and Lightsey 9th at region. The boys were led at region by Lance Kelley (20th), as the team came in 7th. Outside of Gearing, the girls are all back and in great shape to do it again. The boys return their top runner and most everyone as well.
Key Losses – Lily Gearing (21st/7th)
Key Returners – Nealeigh Broadwell (9th/5th), Emma Lightsey (20th/9th), Reese Vandegriff, Ella Blair
Key Losses – Steven Petty
Key Returners – Lance Kelley (NA/20th), Logan Long, Cole Gearing, Isaac Sosebee