Forsyth Central is the new team on the block in Region 5-7A, but don't tell that to its cross country team.
The Bulldogs hope that their familiarity with the course they'll race on this Saturday will prove beneficial as they take on the other four Region 5-7A schools in Lambert, North Forsyth, South Forsyth and West Forsyth, as well as 25 other teams at the Warpath Invitational in Canton, hosted by Cherokee High School.
The Warpath course, Boling Park, right next to Cherokee, has been good to the Bulldogs in recent years. It was the home of last year's Region 7-5A championship where Central placed fourth in the girl's side for the first time and took the title on the boy's side.
Even though the Bulldogs graduated plenty of talent from last year's team, including a hand full of boys and Bonnie McKinnon on the girls side, head coach Shannon Hayes thinks her team is more confident heading into Warpath than they have been all season.
“We've had a lot of races so far that were on courses that were either really tough, or the conditions with it being so hot in August and September, they're really not events where you're set up to have personal records,” Hayes said. “But our team loves this course. This is probably their favorite course to run on it. It was the region championship course three years in a row and we've won on it, so I think we're just going to feel comfortable and confident. They know personal records can be set here.”
One Central runner hoping to etch his name at the top is sophomore Calan Gizelbach, who is coming off a seventh place finish at the Mizuno Covered Bridge Run from last weekend with a time of 16:43.41. His record for the season so far was a 16:39.69 time at the Bob Blastow Early Bird, but Hayes thinks he can break the school record of 16:15 this weekend.
“He's looking for the record this weekend for sure,” Hays said. “But behind that, he's our pack leader, and we've focused a lot on keep our pack as close to him as possible, so hopefully we continue to improve as a team.”
Hays also pointed out how this season many of the teams on the boys and girls side have a very strong lead runner as their hallmark as the programs continue to try and build depth from losses from last season.
South's Kaylee DuPont, an all-state caliber runner and West's Liz Galarza will come into this race after finishing second and third at the Covered Bridge run, finishing just six hundredths of a second off each other. South and Lambert also have powerful runners on the boy's side with Matt Patterson at South and Byron Grogan and Lee Keil at Lambert.
South head coach Nick Wansley knows his team will be right there in the pack, but Lambert will be the favorite from the county.
“The county is so strong with Lambert especially on the guy's side,” Wansley said. “We just have to run smart, we kind of have to progress through the last mile. On the girl's side it'll be another hard fought race but we know we'll be going for the win.”
Below is a complete list of each county team's top runners heading into Saturday:
Forsyth Central: Laney Kronz (20:47.09), Calan Gizelbach (16:39.69)
Lambert: Brianna O'Neal (20:05.53), Byron Grogan (16:29.69)
North Forsyth: Kylee Howlin (21:40.14), Josh Schunk (17:48.85)
South Forsyth: Kaylee DuPont (18:02.30), Matt Patterson (16:10.31)
West Forsyth: Liz Galarza (18:39.00), Jeremy Ericson (17:37.42)