CONYERS - For the Heritage cross country squads, the goal this season is to extend their decade of dominance.
Coach Brian Smith has guided his squads to 10 straight trips to the state championships in Carrollton.
Last year, the Heritage boys placed second in the Region 8-AAAA championship meet at the Georgia International Horse Park and then took sixth in the Class AAAA state meet. The Heritage girls also finished second in Region 8-AAAA and 15th at state.
Both teams have talented runners back this year.
Leading the way for the Heritage boys are senior Jake Hudson, sophomore Darius Calhoun, senior Josh Munger and junior Andrew Connors. Last year, Hudson placed ninth in the region meet and 38th in the state meet.
On the girls side, senior Sarah Hayward, senior Erin Tarr, junior Alyssa Clingenpeel, senior Shannon Wroe and junior Janet VanHeest are back for the Lady Patriots. Hayward finished ninth in the region meet last season and placed 49th at state.
"The boys have pretty good depth with a good mixture of experience and hard-working younger runners," Smith said. "The girls have a good number of runners to start the season. If we continue to consistently train hard, we will be OK."
Both squads were hit hard by graduation.
The Heritage boys said goodbye to standout Shuaib Winters, who finished fourth overall in the Class AAAA state meet last year. Winters was the Boys Runner of the Year on the Citizen's 2007 All-Area Cross Country Team.
The Patriots also lost Brad Hardin, a solid four-year contributor, and Chandler Goss.
The Heritage girls lost two of their top performers in Whitney Adkins and Megan Drish. Adkins was the Citizen's Girls Runner of the Year after producing the Lady Patriots' top finishes in the region and state meets. Drish was a key performer for four seasons.
"Right now, we're looking for some team leaders to emerge, particularly on the girls side," Smith said. "It would help to give us direction and focus on working hard to improve and reach our team goals."
Smith is expecting good things from a large group of newcomers on both squads this season. On the boys side are freshman Brandon Harrison, freshman Phillip Kelley, junior Aaron Worthy, junior Caleb Kirksey and freshman Austin Boozer. On the girls team, Smith is looking for freshman Lena Killingsworth, sophomore Kristen Rodgers, senior Jada Fambrough, freshman Simone Worthy, freshman Jamara Dye, freshman Maggie Barhite, freshman Cate Reach and freshman Arielle Gunderson to make an impact.
The Heritage squads open their season today in the Jaguar Invitational at Spalding High School in Griffin.
Jeff Gillespie can be reached at email@example.com.
SideBar: At a glance
Team: Heritage cross country
Coach: Brian Smith (11th season)
Last year: Boys finished second in Region 8-AAAA and sixth in Class AAAA, girls finished second in 8-AAAA and 15th in Class AAAA
Key returning runners: Darius Calhoun, Alyssa Clingenpeel, Andrew Connors, Sarah Hayward, Jake Hudson, Josh Munger, Erin Tarr, Janet VanHeest and Shannon Wroe
First meet: Today in the Jaguar Invitational at Griffin