TOMY SITTON, an ultra successful coach in Gwinnett County with multiple state titles to his credit, is transitioning to his new job at East Jackson this fall and the first order of business is growing the Eagle cross country program.
Sitton’s first group at East Jackson includes 21 boys and 11 girls as he takes over for former coach Bob Roller.
“The kids have really been easy to work with,” said Sitton, who enters his 27th year of coaching. “So that hasn’t been a problem. It’s just to get more of them now to make the commitment and be there at practice.”
Leading the pack on the boys’ side is area standout Cale Pirtle, a senior who could post a big year for the Eagles.
Pirtle, whose personal-best is 17:11, ran a 17:58 at region last year, finishing fourth in 8-AA. Pirtle followed with an 18:22 at state, finishing 38th in Class AA.
“His PR is 17:11, so we’re hoping that he’ll be under 17:00 this year,” said Sitton, who last coached at Peachtree Ridge in 2010. “But we’re going to have to have our other runners in the 18s at least.”
Sitton said there’s a 60-90 second gap between Pirtle and the next runners in practice, and it’s difficult at this point to determine the pecking order behind him. The Eagles — who finished ninth in Region 8-AA last year — have several runners who placed in close proximity to each other at region in 2010, including Stuart Robinett (20:07 at region), Tyler Cone (20:17), Michael Adair (20:26) and Cory McClung (20:56). In that mix also is Vladik Staples (20:42 in JV region meet). Bobby Hultz is a newcomer to the squad.
“With the big gap between Cale and the next runner, if we’re going to have a shot to qualify for state, we’re going to have to have two through five relatively close,” Sitton said.
On the girls’ side, the Lady Eagles lost three of their top seven from last year’s state- qualifying team, including Sherri Blalock. Blalock finished third in the region in 2010 and 24th at state and now runs at North Georgia Tech.
But the Lady Eagles do have some key runners back.
Courtney McDowell, who owns a 21:36 PR, returns after finishing 16th in the region last year (23:20) and 37th at state (22:03), while Sitton projects that Robin Adair could run in the 22s this fall. Other top runners include Sheena McEachin (22:55 at state last year), McKenzie Parr (23:51 at state last year) and newcomer Haley Smith.
“I think for us to qualify (for state) were going to have to have probably two in the 21s and probably at least three in the 22s to get to state,” Sitton said. “I don’t know that we’re going to have a 19-minute runner this year.”
Though it’s year one, Sitton has state meet goals for his new program.
“I would think one of them is Cale qualifying (for state) individually,” Sitton said. “And if we come together, hopefully qualifying the girls (for state).”