Cross country is becoming a force to be reckoned with at Dawson County High School.
At last week's Region 8-AA meet at Oglethorpe County High School, both teams qualified for the state meet that will be held Saturday in Carollton.
Both teams pulled out a third place finish at the region meet. The top four teams qualify for state.
This year's qualifying marked the fifth year in a row for the girls' team and the second consecutive year that the boys' team has qualified.
Head Coach Brian DeRose has guided the girls to the state meet in all five years of his tenure. The boys' team has made the state meet in three out of his five years at the helm.
"Both teams ran pretty well this year at region," DeRose said. "The girls had some difficulty early on in the race. We had a top five runner melt down early, but recovered to finish in scoring position. The girls went into the meet ranked sixth in the region and ended up third. I continue to be proud of these runners year after year for showing up to the region meet, exceeding expectations and qualifying."
Senior Madalyn Walters captured the region title with a first place finish.
Walters set a new personal best with a time of 18:55.80, easily outdistancing second place finisher Olivia Pigg from North Oconee (19:44.12).
"We went into region knowing Maddy was the strongest runner. We used the region meet as more of a training race focusing on the top spot at the state meet," DeRose said.
"Our plan was to run the first two-mile up-tempo then kill the final mile. Maddy ran it perfectly. She came through the mile and two-mile right on target and then ran a fast last mile, setting the school record, again, by four seconds," he added.
The Lady Tigers placed Cassidy Lecours 24th (23:24), Morgan Collett 27th (23:30), Morgan Williams 28th (23:36), Rachel Gloeckner 29th (23:40), and Savanna Estes 35th (24:14) out of 79 runners in the event.
"Cassidy Lecours ran a great race in her first region meet, finishing second for the team. Being a freshman, I couldn't have asked for anything more. Seniors Morgan Williams and Morgan Collett ran superb races as they have all season. Junior Savanna Estes ran solid as she has all season. As a coach there isn't much more I can ask of these athletes," DeRose said.
North Oconee won the girls Region 8-AA title with a team total of 52 points. Jackson County was second (62 points), followed by the Lady Tigers (109), Jefferson (119), Banks County (134), East Jackson (141), Rabun County (201), Union County (214), Fannin County (221), Oglethorpe County (254), Elbert County (273) and Hart County (276).
In the boys' competition, Tyler Thurmond set a personal record with a time of 17:38. He crossed the finish line in seventh-place for the Tigers. Thurmond broke a 6-year standing school record by six seconds and just missed getting an automatic state bid.
Justin Whitman, Oglethorpe County, won the region title with a time of 16:47.73.
Finishing in second place was Ross Morris from Hart County with a time of 17:17.55.
Tigers Chris Bywaletz also ran a great race. He crossed the finish line in 11th-place with a time of 17:53.64.
"The guys ran well. I told the guys after the girls' race, that there cannot be any ‘hiccup' or slack performances because of the tight competition. Mere points separated the teams. If a runner has a bad race it was most likely the end of the road for the guys," DeRose said.
"Chris Bywaletz ran solid, as he has been all season, running a near personal record. Following Chris, Preston Adams had one of his best races he has had all season, finishing third for the team. Jon Erickson ran solid after a week off with health problems. Jon really pulled through for the team, he could have given up, but his performance and Jake Hafermalz's performance in fifth position really solidified the team's third place performance," he added.
Adams finished in 23rd place with a time of 18:32. He was followed by teammates Jon Erickson 26th (18:37), Hafermalz 33rd (18:56), Josh Styles 39th (19:10) and Sam Wentworth 40th (19:12).
North Oconee captured the team title with a total of 71 points.
Hart County finished in second place with 83 points. The Tigers came in third place with 100 points.
The other teams finished in this order: Fourth place; Jefferson (106): Fifth place; East Jackson (121): Sixth place; Union County (151): Seventh place; Oglethorpe County (155): Eighth place; Banks County (180): Ninth place; Rabun County (228): 10th place; East Hall (290): 11th place; Elbert County (304): 12th - Fannin County (319); and 13th - Jackson County (333).
Both the boys and girls teams will spend this week preparing for Saturday's state meet in Carrollton.
"State meet preparations physically will be the same as the past few years. Being an experienced team, both boys and girls will know what to expect at state so the mental preparations will be minimal. State will be the icing on the cake for most of our seniors," DeRose said.
The state venue will be a different animal for the runners compared to any race this season. The entire course will be lined with excitement, spectators and energy.
This year Class AA will run first with the boys race at 8:30 a.m. followed by the girls competition beginning at 9 a.m.
DeRose expects both of his teams to finish in the top 10.
"I think a top eight finish for both teams is realistic, but at state anything can happen. There are so many teams and runners, it's hard for the kids to tell where they are exactly and that can be a huge advantage. Two years ago, the girls' team went in shooting for eighth and ended up fourth. I think both teams have the talent to make it to the top four podium at state. They just have to pull it all together on the same day," DeRose said.