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Running to daylight
Cross country squads ready for action
WFHS XCountry 2 es
West Forsyth's Missy Smith runs cool-down exercises during a recent practice at the school. - photo by Emily Saunders
It's arguably the oldest sport in the world, and now it's time for local athletes to lace up the running shoes and hit the track for another cross country season.

At West Forsyth, the Lady Wolverines will have their paws full trying to follow up last year, when the West ladies finished second in the state in their first season of competition.

Coach Clayton Tillery expects his girls squad to be no less competitive this year, despite the loss of last season's No. 2 runner, Abby Wilson.

"The girls we have here, they surprised me last year, and I don't think they have any less expectations on themselves for this year," Tillery said.

Junior Kat Gibson, last year's Region 7-AAA champion, will anchor the team. Sarah Stone, one of only two seniors on the West team, also returns from last season, along with juniors Hannah Bodie, Kelsey Baker and Taylor Kern, who all ran in last year's state meet.

Tillery also feels his team brings in a solid crop of freshmen on both sides, with Taylor Reock appearing to be the strongest newcomer for the girls.

West's boys didn't see the same success as their female counterparts a year ago, but Tillery is convinced they'll surprise some people this year.

The Wolverines will also look to sophomores Jeff Bagley and Cornel duPreez for leadership, whom Tillery fingers as his top returners. Junior Connor McAleenan and sophomores Brodie Orr and David Nahabedian will also be looked to for contributions, while Tillery believes freshman Curtis Stallings could have an immediate impact.

"I definitely think we can get to state. I definitely think we can be a top team in [Class] AAA," the coach said.

West's next stop is scheduled for Saturday, at the Jag Invitational in Griffin.

Other high-profile meets for the Wolverines include the Battle of Atlanta in McDonough, the Forsyth County Meet at home and the Wendy's Invitational in Charlotte, N.C.

Jerry Edmondson is preparing for his first season at the helm of the South Forsyth program, recently hired to coach cross country and girls track at South after more than a decade coaching at Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville.

"It's my first year at South, and fortunately for me on the boys side of it, we have some strong returners," Edmondson said.

The coach points to standouts like seniors Gator Jackson, Tyler Curtin and Ben Miles, along with junior Dylan Walker, as team leaders. Sophomore Austin Smith will also be expected to make an impact, according to Edmondson.

Keeping up the success for a boys program that just missed finishing in the state's top 10 a year ago will be a challenge, the coach said.

"Looking back at the season last year, I know they finished 11th in the state ... and certainly a goal for us this year is cracking into the top 10, and a goal I've set is hitting the top five with this group," Edmondson said of his boys team.

On the girls side, Edmondson shows excitement when talking about sophomore Allie Schaich, who won the county championship last season and finished ninth in Region 7-AAAAA.

"She is very talented, a lot of natural ability and she's young. ... She works hard. She really has a passion for the sport, and that goes a long way," he said of Schaich.

The Lady Eagles will look to seniors Carrie Deal and Meghan Doyle to provide some leadership, while sophomore Morgan Shumate, a lacrosse player, could provide some strong young blood. Junior Ashley Burke and sophomore Christine Calvert should both have strong seasons as well, the coach said.

The War Eagles compete in the Gwinnett stage races at River Green Saturday. The Clara Bowl at Berry College, the Carrolton Invitational at the site of the state meet and the Wendy's Invitational are other highlights on the schedule.

At North Forsyth, coach Natalie Leonard will look to junior Anna Sinclair and sophomore Rebecca Owens to lead the Raider girls, with junior Jackson Reynolds and freshman Nick Chesna her projected top athletes for the boys.

"Anna and Rebecca have been working hard all summer and I expect to see
them both improve their racing times this year," Leonard said.

Joining the team with experience in other sports will be freshman Allie Robbins, drawn from the school's tennis program, with Kelly Fitzgerald and Morgan Leguire coming over from the volleyball team.

On the boys side, some new additions will also be joining the Raiders.

"We have loads of newcomers this year along with a great new assistant coach, Ashley Britt," Leonard said. "We are pulling in athletes from other sports such as Ryan Blocker, Cross Brothers, and Taylor Geonis from wrestling [who] have brought some speed to the table."

Britton Short, Nick Christie, and Cameron Zeman will all return to provide some experience for the Raiders.

North was looking to begin the season at the Walton Stage Races today. The Clara Bowl and county meet are other big stops along the schedule.

At Forsyth Central, coach Ryan Payne says his Bulldogs are looking forward to testing their legs in a new home, Region 6-AAAA, this year.

"We have a young team, but are looking forward to seeing how they will perform
against the new competition," Payne said.

Junior Aaron Ansell, a new arrival, is the top prospect on the boys side, according to Payne, with senior Allison Mahaffey, also new to the program, expected to lead the girls.

The Bulldogs will compete in the Clara Bowl on Sept. 6, which Payne points to as the premier meet of the season for the program.