At the season-opening cross country meet at Blanchard Woods Park, Jerry Meitin couldn’t believe what he saw from his Lakeside High School boys team.
After senior standouts Sid Vaughn (Lakeside) and Chris Wilder (Greenbrier) came in first and second, respectively, a Panthers runner came in third.
The next finisher was also a Lakeside runner. The trend continued until Panthers had locked up the third through seventh positions, along with Vaughn’s victory.
“That’s when I realized, ‘Maybe we have something special with these guys,’” Meitin admitted. “I didn’t really believe there was much of a chance to win a state title until I saw that.”
The Lakeside boys are ranked No. 1 in Class AAAA and No. 2 among teams in all classes by gatfxc.com.
Before going for a state title Nov. 5, they’ll have to qualify for the state meet by finishing strong at Saturday’s Region 2-AAAA Championship at Blanchard Woods Park.
The Panthers join Greenbrier and Evans as teams hopeful of earning a berth in the state meet.
While Vaughn (21st at state last year) and Nicholas MacDonald are seniors, the remaining Lakeside runners will return next season.
Chase Fowers (17th at state last year), Eric Stokes and Christian Bowles join Vaughn and MacDonald at the top for the Panthers.
It features the kind of depth Meitin says he’s never had.
Saturday’s boys race will start at 2:30 p.m., followed by the girls at 3 p.m.
On the boys side, Greenbrier is expected to be Lakeside’s primary competition.
Wolfpack senior Chris Wilder has finished seconds behind Vaughn at several meets this season.
Meanwhile, Brandon Coombs is finally getting back into the swing of things in cross country after spending the entire summer competing in top-level track events.
Greenbrier is ranked No. 6 in Class AAAA.
“They’re glad to be in the top 10,” Smallwood said. “That was one of our goals this season is to get in the top 10.”
On the girls side, Sarah Bowles leads a strong Lakeside squad that’s ranked No. 2 in Class AAAA. She finished sixth at last year’s state meet.
Lara Way, Jenny Lind, Jasmine Payne and Erin Payne have helped bolster the team.
Each of the three Columbia County coaches getting set for the region meet said holding it locally is advantageous.
For Evans coach Mike Lennox, the advantage is significant because of the difficulty of the course.
“Blanchard Woods Park is ranked, according to what I can figure out, probably the No. 2 toughest course in the state,” he said. “So, for the folks who are accustomed to flat terrain, it’s a little bit of an eye-opening experience.”
Evans’ top runner is sophomore Jackie Ramos, who made some noise with her 29th-place finish at state in 2010 as a freshman.
In addition to the region meet, Blanchard Woods will play host to a pair of Peach Belt Conference events in early November.
On Nov. 4, the collegiate conference will play its soccer semifinals for men and women at the park. Two days later, the Peach Belt Soccer Tournament will conclude with the finals.
In between, the Peach Belt Conference 5K and 1K Fun Run will be held Nov. 5. The Marshall Family Y is a co-host for the event.
A “Breakfast with the Champions” free soccer clinic for children also will be held that morning.
or the second consecutive year, proceeds will benefit middle school sports programs in Columbia County.
The cost is $20 for the 5K and $10 for the Fun Run. Registration is available at the Marshall Family Y or by calling (706) 364-3269.
As the high school cross country and college soccer events head to Blanchard Woods Park in the coming weeks, there will be a new perk for the athletes.
Columbia County Director of Community and Leisure Services Barry Smith said that construction of the two locker rooms approved last fall has been finished.
Roughly $125,000 of the nearly $400,000 project came from a 2007 bond for capital improvements at the park. The remaining funds came from the 2006-10 1-percent sales tax.
The final step is bringing in the actual lockers, which he said will arrive soon.
“It was right on schedule,” Smith said of the completion of the locker rooms in July. “We are starting to get things booked at Blanchard Woods that will utilize the locker rooms.
“For so many of these regional and national tournaments … in their bid packages, it says, ‘Locker rooms,’” he noted. “So we’re more open to bid on regional and national events.”