CONYERS - Once again this season, the Heritage cross country teams were at their best when it counted the most.
Both squads claimed their 10th straight trips to the state championships in Carrollton with second-place finishes in the Region 8-AAAA Championship at the Georgia International Horse Park.
At state, the Heritage boys finished sixth in the Class AAAA state meet, producing the best average finisher ever in team history at 17 minutes, 31 seconds. The Lady Patriots finished 15th at state and notched their best average of the season at 22:10.
"Our guys this season raised the standard for our program. They worked extremely hard and accomplished a lot," Heritage coach Brian Smith said. "Our 17:31 team average for sixth at state is the best in HHS history. They also were area champions and Region 8-AAAA runners-up again this season. It can be attributed to the time, energy and focus they have put into their training.
"Our girls team had a solid season. They fought hard to win the area championship in September and battled really tough to grab second place in Region 8-AAAA in what proved to be a very competitive field of 13 teams. They also had a season's best 22:10 team time average at the state meet. We are really proud of the effort our runners put forward this season."
Heritage will lose nine runners to graduation - including four who have been key contributors over the last several seasons. On the boys side, the Patriots will lose Shuaib Winters, who capped off his career with a fourth-place individual finish in the Class AAAA state meet, and Brad Hardin, a solid contributor for four seasons.
The Lady Patriots will lose Whitney Adkins, who was their top finisher at the region and state meets this year, and Megan Drish, who has been a strong competitor the last four years.
Even with those losses, Smith is confident the Heritage squads will be in good shape next season as they try to keep extending their streak of state meets.
"The outlook for next season is good," Smith said. "With the runners we have returning, I feel confident they will work hard and improve over the offseason.
On the boys side, the Patriots will return Jake Hudson, Darius Calhoun, Andrew Connors, Josh Munger, Khalif Cooper and Zach Landy. Hudson finished 38th at state this fall, while Calhoun and Connors both cracked the top 100.
The Lady Patriots will have three of their top-five finishers from this year back for next season. Leading the way will be Sarah Hayward who finished 49th at state, along with Erin Tarr and Aylssa Clingenpeel. Janet Van Heest, Shannon Wroe and Gabby Jasso will also return for Heritage.
Jeff Gillespie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.