COVINGTON - The Newton cross country teams are hoping to return to the state meet for the sixth time as they begin their 2008 season.
The Newton boys have a good chance of qualifying for the Class AAAAA meet but unfortunately for the girls, it appears as if their streak is going to end at five due to numbers.
With only three girls currently on the roster, the Lady Rams do not have enough runners to make up a team. Of the three girls, senior Ameryst Armstead is the only one with running experience.
Last year, Armstead was Region 2-AAAAA runner-up, getting edged out by Luella's Kayla Millholland in the final stretch.
"That was a close race. It was right at the end when she gave up the lead to Luella," Newton coach Aaron Robinson said. "She's been doing AAU track this summer to keep in shape. We would put winning the region as one of her goals."
Also running for the Newton girls are a pair of sophomore newcomers - Taviana Nolley and Jelissa Clark.
"We're trying to get the word out that we need some more girls," Robinson said. "I feel like there's got to be some girls out there that maybe haven't heard that we've got a team. There's still an open door for the girls."
Although the Newton boys team lost last year's region champion, Travis Knight to graduation, the Rams still have their fair share of experienced runners with eight returnees.
Because of the experience factor, Robinson likes his boys squad's chances of returning to state.
"I think our chances are better than good. I know it's going to be tough," Robinson said. "The guys I have out there are already meshing very well. That kind of chemistry can result in really good things. The more you can have with experience, the better."
Robinson thinks they also have a shot of winning region despite of the added competition brought by the Greenbrier entering Region 2-AAAAA this year.
"There's always a chance of winning region, but in this kind of sport it's going to take a lot of dedication. It would take a lot to do that," he said. "The quality of Region 2-AAAAA cross country has really improved. Our region just got tougher with the addition of Greenbrier. They're ranked top 10 in both the boys and girls. They're stepping up from AAAA and they're hosting region this year."
Running for the Newton boys are seniors Geoffrey Nolan, Daniel Thompson, Johnathan Wells, Bradley Johnston and Raymond Menefee; junior Tyler Ransom; and sophomores Jamal Green and Matt Knight.
New to the team are junior Jason Moffit and sophomore Dominique Destefano.
Newton will have a measure of how much it's done in the offseason and how much more it'll need to do with its first test at the Walton Stage Races at Gainesville College on Aug. 23.
Other key races include the NewRock Championship, the Aubrae Gunderson Invitational, the Tiger Classic and the Greenbrier Invitational.
"The stage race is really a favorite of the kids," Robinson said. "They run it kind of like a relay. All the No. 5 runners line up and start, then they get a place. It breaks up the real essence of scoring. It gives the kids that don't always race at the front of the pack a chance to experience that a little bit.
"We're doing a couple other invitationals. But as far as focus, I look at NewRock and region. If you want to focus, you can't focus on too many."
Manny Fils can be reached at email@example.com.
SideBar: At a glance
· Team: Newton cross country
· Coach: Aaron Robinson (fourth season)
· Key returning runners: Seniors (boys) Raymond Menefee, Geoffrey Nolan, junior Tyler Ranson, sophomore Matt Knight and senior (girls) Ameryst Armstead
· First meet: Aug. 23 in the Walton Stage Races at Gainesville College