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Heritage runners to defend New-Rock crown

Eleven.

That's the number both the Heritage boys and girls cross country teams will be running for Monday during the annual New-Rock Championship Cross Country meet at the Georgia International Horse Park.

After all, it would be their 11th consecutive area title.

"For 10 years we've been fortunate enough to end up on top," Heritage coach Brian Smith said, "but we don't have any added pressure. The kids might feel a little bit more pressure just because it's a lot of the (local) kids they know - an in-county thing. But I don't think the number of times that we've won puts any more pressure on us in my eyes."

Last year, the Heritage boys recorded 31 points for the championship. Newton finished second overall (48) while Salem was third (90).

"I'm pretty impressed with my group," Newton coach Aaron Robinson said. "We've got a number of guys who are really running tight together. We'll give (Heritage) a good run. I think we're about as good as we've ever been.

"If we just run tight that will make a big difference," Robinson added, "but I know Heritage will try and run like that too and other schools as well. We're just going to try and get out there and have our best day of the season. It's still early. Nobody's going to be in their best shape, but we'll see who has the best team on Monday."

Rounding out last year's meet for the boys were Alcovy (117), Eastside (131) and Rockdale (219).

"They're aware that Heritage has the domination on it, but every year they go into it giving it their best and giving it a good run," Eastside coach Leah Carlisle said.

But the Patriots girls will have to do it without their star competitor Shuaib Winters (graduation), who won first with a time of 17 minutes and 51 seconds.

"Right now we're just trying to continue to build," Smith said. "We look at each meet through September and October as just kind of stepping stones toward the state meet, so we want to just gradually progress."

The Rams will compete without their standout from last season, Travis Knight (graduation). Knight finished second with a time of 18:47.

"On the guys side, we've got to continue to get better," said Rockdale coach Scott Bolen. "Every race has got to be a PR (personal record). We're still pretty young, but they just need to go out and try to lower their times each week."

Meanwhile, the Lady Patriots ran away with the title last year by scoring 21 points. Eastside took second (75), while Rockdale finished third overall (82).

"Well, I'm excited about it," Carlisle said. "It's always a big competition and there's tough competition in Newton and Rockdale. It's always a tough race, but they've been working hard and we've been preparing for (this) for a couple weeks now. The kids are anxious and I'm anxious; everyone wants to do really well."

Rounding out the girls part of the meet were Newton (109), Salem (111) and Alcovy (129).

"It's one of our biggest meets of the year," Bolen said. "We look at that as a chance to be the best in our area and maybe even compete with Heritage."

Heritage's Megan Drish won first last year with a time of 23:14.

"We're happy with the way we've started out and that's just a tribute to the work we've put in over the summer," Smith said. "As far as concerns right now, we're just trying to improve each time out, learn how to race (and) get all our mistakes out of the way before we get into region competition in November."

Newton's Ameryst Armstead took second in the meet last season with a mark of 23:19. Armstead returns as the Region 2-AAAAA champion.

"She's in better shape this year then she was last year at this time," Robinson said. "Hopefully, she'll have another good day. We're struggling on numbers for girls but we've got a couple who are running real well right behind Ameryst. They're trying hard and putting in big efforts at practice."

According to Carlisle, Eastside will have to stay close together to keep pace with Heritage. Both Carlisle and Bolen agree that Heritage can be beaten.

"Heritage is definitely the strongest team in our region (8-AAAA)," Bolen said. "We have a lot of respect for them. We've never been able to compete with Heritage, so I'm hoping this year that we can at least feel like we have a chance to win."

Jason Murdock can be reached at jason.murdock@rockdalecitizen.com.

SideBar: If you go

What: New-Rock Championship Cross Country meet

When: Monday, 5 p.m.

Where: Georgia International Horse Park