EAST JACKSON’S cross country teams hoped they’d be running on into November last year, but the Eagle runners hit a late-October wall.
The East Jackson boys finished fifth at the Region 8-AA meet a year ago, while the girls finished sixth. Season over.
“We didn’t run quite as well as I thought we would at region,” second-year coach Tomy Sitton said.
Now members of Class AAA, East Jackson is out to make sure this season ends on a better note.
That means having both the Eagles and Lady Eagles place in the top four in the team standings Nov. 1 when East Jackson hosts the Region 8-AAA meet. The top four teams, of course, go on to state.
“We’re hoping with the boys and girls that we can qualify for state,” Sitton said.
Though they lost standouts Cale Pirtle and Stuart Robinett, the East Jackson boys return a strong core that includes Vladik Staples (20th last year at region, 18:24), Noah Hulett (19:22), Cory McClung (19:02) and Tyler Cone (19:29).
Staples and Hulett — both much improved — are running around 18:00 currently, if not under. Both runners’ times could dip as low as 17:10-17:15 by year’s end.
“They both are in pretty good shape,” Sitton said. “They’re stronger than they were last year, especially Noah. He’s a lot stronger than he was last year.”
Sitton believes McClung and Cone will also break the 18:00-minute mark by season’s end, giving the Eagles four sub-18:00 times potentially.
On the girls’ side, Kristin Whitlock is back after a 10th place finish at region last year (22:21), as are Hayleigh Smith (12th at region last year, 22:33), Robin Adair (25:12) and Caroline Flynn (26:20). Megan David and Bailey Brooks round out the lineup.
“I’m hoping to have three under 22 (minutes) by the end of the year,” Sitton said of the girls’ squad.
East Jackson will be running against a region that includes its share of powerhouses.
North Oconee, Oconee County and Hart County are all ranked in the boys’ preseason top 10 in Class AAA. North Oconee and Jackson County are both ranked in the girls’ preseason top 10.
Meanwhile, East Jackson doesn’t have the depth that will allow for injuries. There are only 22 runners in the program — 15 boys and seven girls.
Still, East Jackson aims to be taking a busload of runners to the state tournament in Carrollton come November.
“It will be a challenge, and I like challenges,” Sitton said.