CONYERS - Coming into the season, Heritage cross country coach Brian Smith knew his boys squad had a chance to do well this season.
But this well, this early?
The Patriots collected their 11 straight title in the NewRock Area Cross Country Championship on Monday with a dominating performance at the Georgia International Horse Park.
"First and foremost, it takes hard workers (to win 11 in a row). We've been fortunate that the student-athletes we've had have been willing to work," Smith said. "This is a sport where what you put into it is what you get out of it. We've been blessed to have a lot of good runners who have been willing to work together as a team and do their part."
With individual winner Jake Hudson setting the tone, Heritage took the top four places and its fifth runner finished 10th overall for a team total of 22 points, which easily outdistanced second-place Newton, which finished with 64.
Alcovy was third at 72, Eastside was fourth at 86, Salem was fifth at 133 and Rockdale took sixth at 181.
Individually, Hudson took first place with a strong time of 17 minutes, 17 seconds, finishing 32 seconds ahead of teammate Darius Calhoun.
"I'm just extremely proud of Jake. He's kind of lived in Shuaib Winters' shadow for three years," Smith said. "He's been so dependable for three years, but now he's kind of in the spotlight. He's had a tremendous summer. With all the work he's put into it, he deserves everything that he's gotten so far in the first three races."
Heritage's Brandon Harrison was third at 17:50 and Aaron Worthy was fourth, just five seconds behind Harrison. Andrew Connors completed the Patriots' top five in 10th at 19:48.
Last year in the meet, Heritage's Winters, the best boys cross country runner in school history, took first with a time of 17:51.
This year, Hudson, Calhoun and Harrison all bettered Winters' winning time from last year, and Worthy was just four seconds off.
"We've had some unexpected big-time runners come right in and contribute for us this year," Smith said. "A lot of times in this sport, it takes year after year to finally get to where you want to be. We've had a freshman (Harrison) come out this year who's running in our top two or three. We had a junior come out this year, Aaron Worthy, who is right in the mix in our top four.
"We've had some pleasant surprises to go along with the veterans that we've had around here on the boys team. It's been a great mix for us. Particularly on the boys side, we've had two or three different guys within the top seven each week. That just motivates you to work harder in practice and come ready to go on race day."