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Heritage squads head to state for 10th straight year

CONYERS - Heritage saw two of its cross country streaks come to an end Saturday in the Region 8-AAAA Championship at the Georgia International Horse Park, but both squads kept their most important streak intact for another season.

The Heritage boys and girls squads each finished second in their races to claim their 10th straight trips to the state meet next Saturday in Carrollton. They were the only local squads in the region to earn state berths by finishing in the top four of either the boys or girls race.

"I'm just very proud of the kids; they showed a lot of heart in their training coming into this region meet," Heritage coach Brian Smith said. "They put it on the line today. They were competitors, and that's what we asked them to do. The chips fell pretty good for us in both races."

In the boys race, Heritage's Shuaib Winters missed out on a chance to claim his third straight individual region championship by finishing in second with a time of 16 minutes, 53.73 seconds, 31.47 seconds behind Dacula's Mike McClay.

"Shuaib's had an outstanding season, and he's got to tip his cap to Mike McClay of Dacula," Smith said. "Shuaib's going to come back strong for state. He's a competitor, and this will just fuel his fire to go into next Saturday and run even stronger."

Heritage's Jake Hudson was the only other local runner to finish in the top 10, placing ninth in 17:41.85.

Dacula captured its second straight boys region championship with 26 points, placing all five of its runners in the top eight.

Heritage was next with 68 points, holding off third place Clarke Central by seven points. Loganville claimed the final state berth in fourth with 126 points.

"We were in a situation where we had to hold out our No. 3 runner," Smith said. "But our seniors just picked it up and turned in some solid performances; that is what it took to hold off some good teams behind us like Clarke Central and others."

Winder-Barrow (128) and Habersham Central (129) narrowly missed state berths and finished fifth and sixth. Salem was seventh with 197, followed by Eastside (213), Alcovy (222), Madison County (314), Rockdale County (340) and Cedar Shoals (374).

In the girls race, the Lady Patriots saw their streak of five consecutive region championships come to an end.

Loganville won the region title with 61 points, while Heritage finished second with 78. Winder-Barrow was just one point behind Heritage in third. Dacula claimed the final state berth with 104 points.

"We're sorry to see our girls streak of region championships come to an end, but we've known ever since track season that this year's region meet would be real competitive," Smith said. "There's a lot of talent in the girls distance programs around our region. We worked hard, we did the best we could and we got second place by one point. We didn't win, but we did a fantastic job to get second.

"In the girls race, it was a roll of the dice. Any one of four teams could have won the region title today."

During Smith's 10 seasons at Heritage, the Lady Patriots have never finished worse than second in a region meet.

Winder-Barrow's Bethaney Murphy claimed her second straight girls individual region title with a time of 20:09.89, less than 9 seconds in front of Loganville's Claire Rosemond in second.

Heritage's Whitney Atkins posted the top local finish in sixth at 21:53.94. Her teammate, Sarah Hayward, was the only other local runner to crack the top 10 in ninth at 22:16.97.

Salem's Shannon Christian just missed a top-10 finish, placing 11th with a time of 22:25.67.

Clarke Central (139), Habersham Central (173), Jackson County (177), Eastside (207), Rockdale (223) and Salem (249) completed the top 10 in the team scoring. Alcovy (270) was 11th, followed by Cedar Shoals (337) and Madison County (348).

Jeff Gillespie can be reached at jeff.gillespie@rockdalecitizen.com