GRIFFIN - The Heritage boys cross country team opened the season with a bang Saturday.
The Patriots finished first overall in the 24-team field at the Jaguar Invitational at Spalding High School. Heritage edged out Eagle's Landing 85-86 to claim the top spot.
Senior Jake Hudson and freshman Brandon Harrison both turned in outstanding efforts in their first race of the season. Hudson finished fifth overall with a time of 17 minutes, 48 seconds, while Harrison placed eight with a time of 18:04.
Heritage sophomore Darius Calhoun was next in 17th at 18:28 followed by junior Aaron Worthy in 22nd (18:45) and senior Josh Munger in 33rd (19:15).
"Overall, we were really pleased with everyone from our JV runners to Jake Hudson, who finished fifth overall," Heritage coach Brian Smith said. "Brandon Harrison, we kind of expected to do well, but certainly his eighth-place finish was a pleasant surprise. He's really worked hard in all of our morning workouts.
"Aaron Worthy joined our team this year, and he has a good base from summer track. He was able slip in ahead of the fourth and fifth runners from Eagle's Landing, and that really made the difference."
Providence Christian, Union Grove and Woodward Academy rounded out the boys top five.
The Eastside boys finished 12th overall, followed by Alcovy in 15th and Rockdale in 23rd.
Ace Cook finished 39th in 19:29 and Sam Johnson placed 41st in 19:31 to pace the Eagles. Joshua Holcombe recorded the Tigers' top finish in 63rd (20:07), while Ken Shimura paced the Bulldogs in 123rd (22:17).
In the girls race, Heritage also scored the top local finish, placing ninth in the 22-team field. Whitewater won the event followed by St. Pius, Union Grove, West Forsyth and Woodward Academy.
Freshmen Simone Worthy and Lena Killingsworth were the Lady Patriots' top two finishers. Worthy claimed 26th with a time of 23:40, while Killingsworth was two seconds behind in 28th.
Junior Janet VanHeest was next for the Heritage girls in 49th (25:17) followed by senior Erin Tarr in 68th (25:57) and junior Alyssa Clingenpeel in 72nd (26:08).
"We had two freshmen lead in the girls race, Simone Worthy and Lena Killingsworth," Smith said. "They are both strong runners and they've been working hard all summer. We're a little short-handed because the band had their final full day of practice Saturday, but our young runners did a great job for us."
The top local finisher individually was Rockdale freshman Caitlyn VanHeest, who placed 22nd with a time of 23:28. The Lady Bulldogs finished 14th overall as a team. Rockdale junior Lauren Coursey placed 75th (26:19), while her teammate and fellow junior Emily Boyer was right behind in 76th (26:33).
Eastside was 19th overall in the girls race. Allie Haynie had the Lady Eagles' top effort in 54th (25:27).
The Alcovy girls finished 22nd in the team standings with Tatlin Gammon leading the way in 71st (26:06).
At the Walton Stage Races in Duluth, the Newton boys opened their season with a 14th-place team finish.
Jeff Gillespie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.