November 1, 2012

Region cross country meets leave local prep runners no time to waste

Local high school cross country teams will take to 5K courses around Northwest Georgia today, but they’ll be figuratively running toward a common final destination — Carrollton.

Although the GHSA’s new postseason split for some sports in Class A means that classification will now compete in Macon, the West Georgia town will again play host to most of the state’s top runners for the state cross country meets on Nov. 10 — and while region titles are nice, all of the area’s runners are gunning for the biggest stage.

Both individually and as teams, runners will look for one of the highest spots in the region in order to advance to Carrollton. The top six individual runners and the top four teams for both boys and girls will advance to state from each region.

The Region 7-4A meets including Dalton, Northwest Whitfield and Southeast Whitfield are set for 4:30 p.m. at Roper Park in Jasper, while North Murray and Coahulla Creek will race in the Region 5-3A meets at Dellinger Park in Cartersville and Murray County and Morris Innovative runners will take to the course in the Region 7-2A meets at Georgia Highlands College in Rome. The latter two region’s first races will both start at 4 p.m.

Individually, Dalton’s Bekah Houston, Northwest Whitfield’s Brody Cook and North Murray’s Isaac Pacheco have been at the front of the packs all year long, while Dalton’s boys have perhaps the area’s best chance for a region team title.

In Region 7-4A, while Houston and Cook should certainly challenge for individual titles, when it comes to their schools, the opposite gender has the better shot for team glory.

The Dalton boys and the Northwest girls have been strong from top to bottom all season. But going into the region meet, Dalton coach Karen Galyon said there are plenty of unknowns. Both Dalton and Northwest regularly compete in the Chattanooga Area Cross Country League and have not seem some of the opponents they will face today.

However, they do know the course.

“We ran the course on Oct. 13, and the boys were second to (Class 6A’s) Marietta in that meet, but some of our (region) competition wasn’t there,” Galyon said. “We haven’t run against River Ridge, and we hear they are very strong. With the boys in particular, we may not have the No. 1 overall runner, but we have a very fast pack.”

At last week’s “Big Harry” Cross Country Race at Lakeshore Park, Dalton runners finished second, fifth, sixth, seventh and eight.

“If it is spread out, then you are at a disadvantage with the scoring,” Galyon said. “We really emphasize staying together and forming the pack. The boys have a good shot of doing very well. They have been pretty successful in every meet that we have run. I don’t know if they will win it, but they should be in the top.”

For the Lady Cats, Houston has been a steadfast finisher at the top — the senior won a region title two years ago — but Galyon is hoping that the rest of the team can charge forward to get one of the top four slots.

“There is no telling what will happen with the girls,” Galyon said. “I have told them to leave it all on the course and go out on a good note.”

Northwest will be paced by Brody and his twin brother Parker, while the girls should be heavily in the mix for a shot at advancing to state. Shelby Wilson has been the top runner for the Lady Bruins, but the rest of the team’s top five have all been within two minutes of each other this year.

“I’m just hoping that we can place in the top four with both boys and girls,” Northwest coach Tom Sell said. “It’s going to be very tough competition.

“On the boys side, I’d say Dalton is the favorite and Pickens is second. River Ridge is strong, but I really don’t know what to expect after that on the boys side. On the girls side, (Heritage-Catoosa) is going to win it, Pickens should be second, and the third and fourth spots are probably up for grabs.”

Should his teams fail to capture those top-four finishes, Sell believes both the Cook twins and Wilson have a chance to be in the top six as individuals.

“But the best-case scenario is that both teams qualify,” Sell said. “... But that’s a big question mark.”

Southeast’s top runners have both been ailing this year. Top Raider Marcus Arrendondo has been slowed by a foot fracture, while freshman Ana Padilla injured her back playing soccer two weeks ago. For both, it is a matter of running through the pain.

“We’re not favored for anything, so we don’t have a whole lot of pressure on us and we probably won’t be on anyone’s radar,” Raiders coach Kevin Kettenring said. “We’ve run the course, know what it is like, and it is not easy. We’ve been working really hard on getting that second and third mile and pulling in some good quality times.”

Lady Raiders coach Carrie Bishop is anxious to see how her team responds, especially since the team’s fastest runners are underclassmen. Padilla, classmate Isabella Salinas and sophomore Jessica Flores have been Bishop’s top finishers.

“If they continue to work and get better, the future looks very bright for the girls,” Bishop said.

In Region 5-3A, the goal for Coahulla Creek is to qualify both of its teams for the state meet.

One was successful last season, so now the Lady Colts have to catch up.

“I told them since the beginning of the year, ‘I’d be absolutely ecstatic if we could have both boys and girls going to state,’” Coahulla Creek coach Ben Williams said.

Julissa Romero won’t run in the meet due to a hip injury, so the Lady Colts will lean on Bethany Goodwin, Haley Hight and Evelyn Bottelo.

“They’ve been consistently the top three,” Williams said. “Looking at our standing in region, if the girls want to qualify for a slot in state, they are in a gun fight with Ringgold and either North Murray or (Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe).”

Missael Fraire has taken the top spot for the boys team with Sadoth Fraire, his brother, and Junior Villareal rounding out a solid top three.

“In these two seasons, we’ve yet to have a runner who has run (faster than 18 minutes),” Williams said. “While we don’t have (one) really strong runner, our strength in meets are our first four or five running competitively and staying in a sub-19 pace.”

North Murray has one of the best runners in the area in senior Isaac Pacheco, The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Runner of the Year in 2011, but the rest of the group is aiming to step up and send the Mountaineers to the state meet for the first time. Jesus Cruz could help add another strong finish to the team’s bid.

“We have real high hopes for the boys team,” North Murray coach Matt Chambers said. “Those two guys give us a really solid chance.”

For the Lady Mountaineers, sophomore Jessinea Gasper has a chance to gain experience along with the rest of the team.

“It really is one of those confidence builders to see what is going on and let them know they can do this,” Chambers said.

In Region 7-2A, Murray County hopes to be as well prepared as its competition.

Coach Sam Young brought his teams to the Georgia Highlands College course a couple weeks ago in order to let his runners test it before the region meet. He hopes it pays off.

Nayeli Jacobo will lead the Lady Indians squad and Ivan Delgado and Servio Martinez will head the pack for the boys.

“I think we’re going to be competitive,” Young said.

Even if Murray County’s boys team does not make it into the top four and earn a spot in the state meet, Young believes Delgado and Martinez have good chances at going on their own.

“If they have their best day, Ivan and Servio should make it in the top 10 and even the top six to qualify individually for state,” he said.

Jacobo will finish “around fifth or sixth,” Young predicted, if all the top runners have their best times today.

“She’s been working very hard all year, but you never know,” Young said. “Anyone could have a good day or a bad day, and it could be a surprise or disappointment.”

He expects fast times at the course due to the flat terrain, a contrast to the Indians’ training. He also hopes his team has an advantage from being there earlier this season.

“It was imperative that we get down there and see it,” he said. “Until you run it, you don’t have a feel for it.”

Morris Innovative will join Murray County at the meet, but the Tigers will not be able to compete for a team title since they have just four boys runners — five are required to score — and the school will enter no female runners.

Coach Dee Bonds said sophomore Arm-ando Rangel should lead her runners in the race.

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