Patriots squads aim for top-10 finishes at state

CONYERS - For the Heritage cross country teams, a trip to Carrollton in early November has become an annual rite of passage.

Both squads will participate in their 10th straight state meets on Saturday. The Class AAAA boys meet starts at 8:30 a.m. the Class AAAA girls follow at 9.

"We're real excited, it's a great opportunity for us. This our 10th time going, and we've got some lofty goals," Heritage coach Brian Smith said. "We'd like to sneak into the top 10. Last year, we were 10th on the girls and 12th, I think, on the boys side, just outside the top 10. So we'd like to improve on that.

"We're kicking things off at the state meet. Four-A goes off first and 8:30 and 9. It's a little different than normal. We'll travel up there Friday night and we'll go out and run the course Friday evening, which is good. Then, we'll get up and got to work in the morning."

On the boys side, senior standout Shuaib Winters is one of the favorites to win the individual title.

But for the Patriots, who finished behind Dacula in last Saturday's Region 8-AAAA Championship, to crack the top 10, they'll need a strong effort from their whole squad.

The Heritage boys got some good news this week. The No. 3 runner, freshman Darius Calhoun, has been cleared to run at the state meet after missing last week's region meet.

"We've got our No. 3 guy back who's been cleared to run. Darius broke 18 (minutes) on the state course two weeks ago (in the Last Chance Invitational)," Smith said. "Right now, the best part of our boys team is we have Shuaib up in the front 10 percent of the race and we have guys behind Shuaib that are down around the 18-minute mark or under, and that's going to really benefit us.

"Last year, I think our fourth and fifth runners in the mid-18s, which is the bubble at state, so you lose at lot of points. Hopefully, we'll get Shuaib down in the low 16s competing for a title and the other guys just to run sub-18 races. Jake (Hudson) and Darius have broken 18 on the course already and we've got guys that are peaking right now in Brad (Hardin), Josh (Munger) and Andrew (Connors) that are ready to go under 18."

On the girls side, Smith brings an experienced crew to Carrollton, coming off last Saturday's second-place finish in the Region 8-AAAA Championship.

"The girls have gotten to the point where they're at the end (of the season) and they're ready to compete. They showed that at region," Smith said.

Seniors Whitney Adkins and Megan Drish will be running in their final races for Heritage. It's the fourth trip to state for both.

Junior Erin Tarr is making her trip to state, while junior Sarah Hayward and sophomores Alyssa Clingenpeel and Janet VanHeest are making their second trips.

"Every one of our girls has seen what it's like to race in November (at state)," Smith said. "We feel like the girls are peaking at the right time. We're going to do the best we can. There are lot of good teams in the state."