With the majority of Forsyth County’s Class 6A cross country programs relying on underclassmen, it won’t be easy for local schools to qualify for the state meet.
Only the top four teams in each race — and any individual who places in the top six — will be able to advance on Saturday at the Region 6-AAAAAA meet at Garrard Landing Park in Roswell.
Leanne Zimmer has done everything asked of her and more. The senior dominated early in the season with three second place and one third place finish. Zimmer also placed sixth in the Asics Invitational, where she ran her personal best of 18:37.24.
"Her work ethic is really, really great," Lambert head coach Natalie Leonard said. "She lives cross country. She’s very scholastic, too."
Leonard is also impressed with freshman Katherine Aiken, who dropped two minutes from her time this season and placed third at the Lambert River Run on Sept. 29.
"We’re doing really well," Leonard said. "I’m pretty sure [the girls] will qualify for state. I’m crossing my fingers."
After graduating many of the leaders from last year’s team, it took the Longhorns until midseason to find leaders for the boys team. Juniors Noah Schaich and Conner Lacks took charge of the group and have done an excellent job, Leonard said.
Schaich boasts a 16:36.39 personal best in the 5000m and has placed in the top 10 twice this season, while Lacks’ personal best is 16:57.16 and claimed sixth place in the Lambert River Run.
"The [boys] team is doing good," Leonard said. "We’re a younger team, but we’re still doing good. The region has some tough teams, so we’ll have to do our best."
It hasn’t been easy for North Forsyth head coach Brad Kudlas. He only had two girls return from last season’s team and has one senior on the boys team, but has confidence both teams can make a statement at the region matchup.
"If we put everything together, we can surprise people," Kudlas said. "We lost quite a bit from last year, so it may be tough to make it to state."
If the Lady Raiders advance, it will probably be in large part to sophomore Lochlain Corliss. Corliss ran a personal best of 19:14.83 at the Second Annual Bob Roller Invitational on Oct. 18 and placed second. Corliss also took first place at the Wesleyan Invitational eight days earlier. The sophomore has placed in the top five during every race this season.
The boys team will rely heavily on Chase McFarling. The junior ran a personal best of 17:14.92 at the Second Annual Bob Roller Invitational, where he placed 23rd out of 181 participants.
Freshman Savannah Carnahan has surprised coaches and teammates with her success. Carnahan ran a personal best of 18:31.83 at the Asics Invitational on Oct. 13, finishing fourth. She has placed fourth or better five times during the season.
"[Carnahan] is a sensation," South head coach Van Munn said. "She’s a dedicated runner and has done a great job.
"It will be close if we make it to state. The team is doing well, but there are some really good teams out there."
Along with Carnahan, the War Eagles will lean on Tricia Surber. The senior is peaking at the right time, as she ran a personal best of 20:12.42 at the Asics Invitational.
Ryan Peppenhorst, Jake Howlin and Reed Vaughn will anchor the boys team. Peppenhorst ran his personal best of 17:03.62 and placed second at the Lambert River Run.
"We’re pretty good and have continued to improve," Munn said. "We have a good shot to make it in the top four. It’ll be very competitive. There’s no real strong team [in the region], but there isn’t a real weak team, either."
The Lady Wolverines aren’t like most teams. They don’t have a clear No. 1 runner heading into the region meet.
"We are constructed very differently," West Forsyth head coach Clayton Tillery said. "We don’t have a frontrunner. What we do have is a strong pack of runners. They have been truly succeeding as a team.
"How we do will depend on how some of the other teams finish."
Junior Sara Jenkins leads the team with two top-10 finishes, her best coming at the Lambert River Run where she finished seventh.
West draws much of its inspiration from senior teammate Deborah Gaul, who Tillery prided as, "A vocal leader that leads by example and is an integral part of the team."
Seniors Jonathan Gomez, Tray Gregory and junior Austin Shea will captain the boys team.
Gomez’ best finish of the season came at the Lambert River Run, where he placed ninth with a time of 17:48.36, while Gregory is peaking at the right time, as he placed 11th and ran a season best of 17:54.28 at the Georgia Highlands Classic on Oct. 20. Shea’s personal best also came at the Lambert River Run when he finished fifth with a time of 17:39.23.
"We’re going to do the best we can," Tillery said of the boys team. "It’s a really good region. I’m hoping for fifth or sixth."