CONYERS - The Salem cross country teams will feature young runners this fall, but new coach Ryan Baldassaro thinks both squads can make big strides.
"We are young and have some strong, though inexperienced, runners this season," Baldassaro said. "We are seeing big drops in overall time in the few weeks we've been practicing. Our numbers overall are down from last year, but I think we will surprise some teams with our returning core."
Senior Taylor Horton and sophomore Roy Cooley are back for the Salem boys this year. Horton was the Seminoles' top finisher in the Region 8-AAAA meet last year. Deandra Whyte is the top returning runner for the girls.
Last season, the Salem boys finished seventh at the region meet, while the Salem girls placed eighth.
The key losses off last year's teams include Shannon Christian, who was the top local girls individual finisher in the Region 8-AAAA meet with a 10th place. Also gone are Bo Bateman, Logan Gunzenhauser and Lindsay Kaiser.
"(The teams') main concerns are staying healthy and keeping our newer runners focused on long-term results over the season. Our new runners are still figuring out how to pace themselves for a strong finish," Baldassaro said. "We had some key losses in terms of speed and leadership on both boys and girls squads, so returning runners will have to step up a little quicker than anticipated."
One of Salem's young runners is already making a big impact. Dontavious Wright finished second overall in the season-opening meet at Newton.
"Dontavius Wright is a track recruit and has been running cross country a very short time," Baldassaro said. "We hope to see good things from Evin Morton and Rodriguez Manuel (for the boys). Morgan Reid is a strong newcomer on our girls.
"Our main goal is to have our runners come out on a daily basis and focus less on overall times and work toward personal fitness and endurance gains. We expect our varsity boys to compete well within the field during meets. Main goals for our girls are to work together to push our fitness levels and personal times in practices and meets."
Salem's next meet is Saturday at the Tiger Trail Classic at Alcovy High School.
Jeff Gillespie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SideBar: At a glance
Teams: Salem cross country
Coach: Ryan Baldassaro (first season)
Last season: Boys finished seventh in Region 8-AAAA meet, girls placed eighth in Region 8-AAAA meet
Next meet: Saturday in Tiger Trail Classic at Alcovy High School