COVINGTON - Experience and a large turnout of new runners could give the Eastside cross country teams the edge they need as both try to make it to the state meet together for the first time.
"We've never taken both teams to state. It's a major motivating factor," Eastside coach Leah Carlisle said. "They want to take a big and go run the state trip together. That's definitely a goal."
Last year, the girls team finished fourth in Region 8-AAA to advance to state, while the boys barely missed out with a fifth-place finish.
The Eastside boys have the combination of six returning runners and 13 new participants on their roster this year.
"Boys cross country got a little bit of recognition last year, so more boys want to get involved. And the kids actually did a little bit of recruiting themselves," Carlisle said.
The experience on the boys side comes from seniors Dalton Bender, Jason Croom and Mikey Rue, junior Sam Johnson and sophomores Austin Knight and Kyle Yeomans.
New runners who have already made an impact on the team are junior Michael Hammock, sophomore Michael Johnson-Weeks and freshman Bilia Prince.
In their first meet at the Newton, Hammock, Johnson-Weeks and Prince were the No. 3, 4 and 5 runners for the boys.
Carlisle feels that with the numbers, 19 in all, the boys have the opportunity to close the gap between the top of the pack and the bottom of the group.
"I feel that there's a potential to close the gap this year," she said. "I feel that I have a bigger pool to choose from, especially from the boys. So there's more potential to close the gap than there was last year."
While the Lady Eagles were able to advance to the state meet last season, they did so in the final position. Carlisle is hoping to improve on that, as well as their performance at state, with seven of the 12 girls returning from last year.
"We want to drop the team average, that's always a goal," she said. "We finished with a team average of around 25 (minutes) last year. We want to get down to the low 24s. If we do that, I feel we'll do better in the region."
Helping to give the team the motivation they need to get better comes from seniors Alle Haynie and Mariah Parker as well as sophomores Blakely Smith and Chrissie McLemore.
"Alle really sets a good example," Carlisle said. "It's good that she sets the example that if you're self-motivated and you put in the hard work it pays off."
Even though they did not run last season, Ivy Gann and Taylor Davis can also be counted on for senior leadership as half the team are sophomores.
While taking both squads to state is a goal, Carlisle also acknowledges the fact that there is good competition in 8-AAA.
"Oconee County and Jackson (County) always have a good girls team," Carlisle said. "For the boys, Elbert (County) and Franklin (County) looked good last year. Stephens County also came out of nowhere last year."
Manny Fils can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.