BY KRISTI REED
After strong performances last season, both Mill Creek cross country teams have high expectations heading into the 2008 season.
Last year, the girls’ cross country team made its first appearance at state. The boys’ team also made state, finishing in the top ten.
Both teams hope to make a return trip this year and improve on last year’s results.
Led by head coach Tom Kutter, the girls’ cross country team is currently ranked fifth in the region, but 13th in the state. The high state ranking compared to the relatively low region ranking is proof of region 7-AAAAA’s competitiveness, said Kutter.
“In Gwinnett County, we have the best teams in the state,” Kutter said.
In order to make state, the girls must finish in the top four at region. With perennial power houses like Collins Hill and North Gwinnett, placing at region can be a challenge.
“This year our goal is to be top eight at state,” Kutter said. “It’s going to be hard because we’re ranked fifth in the region right now which wouldn’t even get us there.”
The good news is that Mill Creek graduated only one of their top ten runners last year.
“We’re almost retuning our entire team,” Kutter said. “The problem is that Collins Hill and North Gwinnett are returning theirs too.”
Collins Hill has dominated cross country in the region and has won five consecutive state championships. While Mill Creek would like to beat Collins Hill some day, right now they just want to do well enough in the region to return to state.
“If we make top eight at state, I’ll be happy. But I think we have the potential to be better than that,” said Kutter.
Andy Christie takes over as boys’ head coach this season. He inherits a program that finished ninth in the state last year.
Christie, head coach at Dacula for the last eight years, expects good things from his team.
“They worked hard this summer. They put up a lot of miles,” he said.
The boys’ team met three times each week for summer workouts. Some of Christie’s runners logged more than 600 miles a week to prepare for the 2008 season.
Those workouts will be important for a team that graduated its top three runners last year.
“It’s a young team this year,” Christie said. “Two boys that ran at state are back. They had a strong JV team and they’re all moving up.”
Like Kutter, Christie hopes to return to the state meet this year.
“We’re all about getting back to state,” he said. “Being young, we want to see improvement the whole year and be right in the thick of things come region time.”
ABOUT THE SPORT
Cross country races are 3.1 miles or five kilometers. Each team typically fields seven to ten runners. The finish order of the top five runners is added together for the team’s score. If team’s runners finish in the top five spots, the team receives a perfect score of 15.
Each race is different. The courses may be grass or wooded trails. Ninety percent of the time, the runners are off the pavement. The terrain may be flat or hilly and weather is also a factor.
“You may run in the rain. No matter how cold or hot it is, we’ll probably have the meet,” Kutter said.
Many of the 60 girls and 75 boys who participate in Mill Creek’s cross country program also run track in the spring.
“It’s a great sport for the kids, they like getting away from running in circles around the track. A lot of them prefer cross country over track because they like the change of scenery,” Kutter said.
For those that prefer track, cross country serves as a great way to stay in shape, according to Christie.
While cross country does not typically draw spectators like some of the other sports, Christie hopes that having two meets at nearby Little Mulberry Park will bring out supporters. Mill Creek hopes to eventually host a region meet at the park.
Mill Creek’s first meet will be August 28 at Marist High School. The team will run on their home course September 11 when the junior varsity takes on Brookwood at Little Mulberry. For more information on meets and times, visit the team’s website at www.MillCreekCrossCountry.com.