Over the summer, South Forsyth cross country runners Ryan Peppenhorst, Reed Vaughn and Matt Patterson increased the mileage they ran knowing expectations were going to be increased too.
With virtually its entire starting lineup back, the War Eagles enter the season garnering attention from across the state as the No. 3-ranked team in Class AAAAAA in Ga.Milesplit.com’s preseason rankings.
"Potentially, I think that we could have a really strong season," Peppenhorst said. "We’ve improved a lot this summer, so we’re all looking forward to having a really good season. So far we’re looking good in practice and hoping to start the season well."
Peppenhorst leads the way for the War Eagles. The reigning Region 6-AAAAAA champion returns with a personal-best time of 15 minutes 37 seconds, but he has plenty of company in senior Reed Vaughn, junior Kyle McKean and sophomores Matt Patterson, Trevor Kane, Luke Francis and Nicholas Warner. Together, they helped South win the region championship meet last season by 15 points over West Forsyth.
But the GHSA State Championship Meet in Carrollton was a different story. Few ran up to their expectations, and the War Eagles finished a disappointing 13th – 12 points behind West.
"We’ve never had a good state appearance," Peppenhorst said. "We do well at region … We just have a problem with Carrollton, and I’m hoping we can change that this year."
Perhaps it was the influx of new talent a year ago that caused South to struggle at state. The War Eagles relied on Kane, Francis, Patterson and Warner, a group of freshman with talent but inexperience.
Now sophomores, they return more experienced and even faster, Peppenhorst said.
Plus, they’ve spent the requisite time together to build the right chemistry. Peppenhorst and Vaughn host pasta dinners the night before races. The team watches movies, play corn hole or volleyball and chat for hours.
Anything to help them get the extra edge to become state title contenders.
"Considering that almost all of our team right now is sophomores, we’ve been able to grow really close," Peppenhorst said. "Most of the team already knew each other, so that made it easier for kids just to get along from the start.
"I consider Reed and I to be pretty friendly guys, and they’re a lot of fun to work with. When we’re all getting into the knit and grit of everything it’s a lot of fun."