Heritage cross country coach Brian Smith is understandably confident about today's Region 8-AAAA race. After all, the Patriots and Lady Patriots have each qualified for the state meet 12 consecutive seasons and Smith's crew has the talent to return for year 13.
The boys team, which won the team title and had last year's individual champion Jake Hudson, has the ability to repeat both feats in 2009. Senior Aaron Worthy, who's won four races and has a season personal best of 16:50, is the favorite on the boys' side, though several runners could challenge in what has the makings of a competitive race.
"(Worthy is) probably the favorite coming in. If he runs a smart race runs his race, he should do well," Smith said. "Aaron's definitely been our number one guy all year. He'll have to be on his game."
Smith is also looking for big things from number two runner, Brandon Harrison.
While the girl's team isn't expected to challenge for the team title, number one runner Simone Worthy, Aaron's sister, has a shot at individual glory. Worthy and Lena Killingsworth give the Lady Patriots a strong 1-2 punch.
The ability of the two runners, along with a solid 3-4-5, is what Smith is hoping will carry both teams to the state meet, Nov. 7 at Carrollton High School.
"That's where you see how the shape of the race is going in a region race. It's all about place, time is relevant," Smith said of the drop off after the number one runners. "Brandon and Lena are a huge part of that. They kind of set the table, and the 3-4-5 kind of make the difference. It's all about how you fit in with your opponent (and) running a smart race."
Though both teams from Rockdale and Salem are not expected to compete for any team titles, a handful of individuals could make things interesting. Salem's Dontavious Wright, who finished second to Worthy in September's NewRock meet and third at Alcovy's Last Chance Invitational last weekend, has the talent to challenge for the top spot in the boy's race.
Rockdale's best shot at a top 20 finish is Forrest Freeman, a first-year runner. The Rockdale girls' hopes lie with Caitlyn Vanheest, who recovered from a torn ACL suffered last year and recently finished 11th at Alcovy.
"Freeman should finish (with) the high score for us," Rockdale coach Chester Fuller said. "We're looking for him to be competitive. We're hoping for a top-15 finish (for Vanheest). "Honestly we're looking for somewhere in the middle of the pack (in the team races). That's our best hope for this one, if we can finish in the middle of the pack I'll be pleased. There's some real tough teams in the region."