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Top runners gear up for region meet

CONYERS - Some of the state's top runners will hit the trails Saturday morning at the Georgia International Horse Park in the Region 8-AAAA Cross Country Meet.

The varsity boys race is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. with the girls race to follow at 9:45.

Last year's meet was a banner event for Heritage as both the boys and girls teams punched their tickets to state for the ninth straight year.

The Lady Patriots claimed their fifth straight region crown while the Heritage boys picked up a state berth with a second-place finish.

Heritage's Shuaib Winters also claimed his second straight individual title last year and will be going for a three-peat Saturday.

Runners from Heritage, Rockdale, Salem, Eastside and Alcovy will compete alongside the rest of 8-AAAA for a chance to run in the state meet in Carrollton.

Heritage assistant coach Scott Wade said he is expecting a solid field once again this year.

Dacula is the returning champion on the boys side, and the Falcons look to have another solid team this season.

"On the boys side, Dacula is the best team hands down. Heritage is a strong contender for runner-up," Wade said. "The other teams competing for state berths are Clarke Central, Winder-Barrow, Loganville, Habersham and Salem.

"For the girls, Loganville and Winder look to be the favorites despite the fact that Heritage has won five consecutive girls titles. Dacula and Clarke will also battle for state berths and the team title. This field has a great deal of parity between teams."

With such a talented field of runners, Wade is keeping his team goals simple.

"First and foremost, our goals are to qualify for state," he said. "A region championship would be a bonus."

Of course, Wade isn't over looking the individual achievement that is within the grasp of Winters.

"Shuaib will try to win his third region title, but he will be challenged by Mike McClay of Dacula," he said.

Winder's Bethany Murphy is the defending region champ on the girls side.