CONYERS - The names may change, but the goals remain the same every year for the Heritage cross country teams.
This year, the magic number for both squads is 12, as in 12 straight area titles and 12 straight trips to the state meet in Carrollton.
On the boys side, the Patriots feature a strong returning lineup from last year's first region championship team in school history. Heritage also finished fourth as a team in the Class AAAA state meet, the best ever boys finish in school history.
Senior Aaron Worthy is back and opened the season with individual victory at the Jaguar Invitational at Spalding High School, where the Patriots also repeated as team champions.
Other key returning members for the Heritage boys are sophomore Brandon Harrison, senior Andrew Connors, senior Zach Landy and sophomore Phillip Kelley.
For the Heritage girls, sophomores Simone Worthy and Lena Killingsworth are back to provide solid contributions after turning in outstanding freshman debuts last season. Worthy was the Citizen's 2008 Girls Runner of the Year on the All-Area Cross Country Team.
Last year, the Lady Patriots qualified for state with a young and inexperienced team by finishing fourth at the Region 8-AAAA meet. At state, the Lady Patriots placed 12th overall.
"On the boys side, we have a large group with a good mix of young and experienced runners," Heritage coach Brian Smith said, "most of which have been working hard and will battle it out for the top seven positions on our team this season.
"On the girls side, Simone Worthy and Lena Killingsworth are a pretty good one-two punch, but we are looking for others in the tight pack behind them to emerge this season to strengthen our team."
Heritage's key losses off last year's teams were No. 1 boys runner Jake Hudson, who is now running at West Georgia, No. 2 boys runner Darius Calhoun, who moved to Florida, and No. 3 girls runner Sarah Hayward.
"We hope to be competitive in defending our area (boys and girls) titles and region (boys) title," Smith said. "It is always our goal to qualify for the state meet and be competitive there."
Smith is also looking for good things from newcomers - freshman Zach Whitten, freshman Thomas Donaldson and senior Alexa Grimes.
At the Jaguar Invitational, Whitten turned in the second-best time for the boys squad. Sophomore Victor Beltran and senior Mike Dontfraid also scored for the Patriots in the meet.
"At this stage of the season, we are concerned with getting accustomed to our training schedule," Smith said. "Our biggest concern early on is developing good, consistent training habits and then seeing what athletes rise to the top."
Heritage continues its season Saturday at The Rock Ranch Invitational.
Jeff Gillespie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SideBar: At a glance
· Teams: Heritage cross country
· Coach: Brian Smith (12th season)
· Last year: Heritage boys finished fourth at Class AAAA state and won the Region 8-AAAA championship; Heritage girls place 12th at state and finished fourth in Region 8-AAAA
· Next meet: Saturday at The Rock Ranch Invitational