CONYERS - The Heritage cross country teams have built a tradition that no other local squads can match in any sport.
On Saturday, the Heritage boys and girls will be chasing their 11th straight trips to the state cross country meet in the Region 8-AAAA Championship at the Georgia International Horse Park.
The meet starts at 9 a.m. with the boys race, the girls race follows at 9:30 and the junior varsity race wraps up the festivities at 10.
No other sports program in Rockdale County can match Heritage's consistency on the state level in cross country.
"We do talk about the tradition that has been established here over the years," Heritage coach Brian Smith said. "I think it gives our runners a little extra motivation to train harder and race harder to meet the standards that were set by those who came before them."
That tradition should serve both squads well in Saturday's meet, as the Heritage squads enter the meet in different roles this season.
In years' past, the Heritage girls have been the dominant squad with five straight region titles and six overall. The Lady Patriots have never finished worse than second in a region meet during Smith's tenure as coach.
But this year, it's the Heritage boys who are the favorites going into Saturday's meet. Loganville, Winder-Barrow, Habersham Central and Clarke Central should be the Patriots' main competition in the boys race.
The Patriots, who are ranked No. 4 in Class AAAA, have built an impressive resume this fall, including their victory last week in the Last Chance Invitational at Carrollton.
The Heritage boys have never won a region cross country championship.
"We have been focusing on more speed work on the track since fall break to bring our guys to their full potential for region and state," Smith said. "With this training, along with the success they have experienced throughout the season, we hope that they will have the fitness level and confidence to go out there and win a region championship."
Heritage's Jake Hudson is one of the favorites to claim the individual title in the boys race.
In the girls race, the Lady Patriots will battle Winder-Barrow, Loganville, Clarke Central and Habersham Central for one of the four team berths to Carrollton.
The Lady Patriots have undergone a youth movement this season with freshmen - Simone Worthy, Lena Killingsworth, Jamara Dye and Alayna Famble - holding down four of their top seven spots.
"We will need each of our girls to physically and mentally step up to the challenge," Smith said. "I think they understand they are in a battle for a trip to the state meet and that it will take solid performances from each of them at the Horse Park on Saturday to reach that goal."
If this year's results are any indication, Salem and Rockdale don't appear to be in the running for a team berth in either the boys or girls race. However, Salem junior Shannon Christian is one of the contenders for a girls individual berth.
The top four teams and top six individual finishers in each race will earn trips to the state cross country championships next Saturday in Carrollton.
Jeff Gillespie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SideBar: Cross Country
What: Heritage, Rockdale, Salem in Region 8-AAAA cross country championship
When: Saturday; boys race 9 a.m., girls race 9:30 a.m.
Where: Georgia International Horse Park