With outstanding individual and team performances, Columbia County schools dominated the Region 2-AAAAA Cross Country Regional at Wildwood Park Saturday afternooon.
Under a hot, cloudless sky, Lakeside led the parade of locals advancing to the 2012 GHSA State Cross Country Championships, winning the boys and girls division. With the top four teams in each division advancing to Saturday's meet in Carrollton, Ga., the Panthers' boys won with a low of 30 points, followed in second by Greenbrier (41) and Evans in third (91). The Panthers girls won with 27 points, followed by second-place Evans (57) and third-place Greenbrier (61).
Even with both team wins, it didn't look easy for the Panthers. Along with other schools, some Lakeside runners needed to be helped through the finishing chute, while one of the Panthers top-five runners, Brian Stokes, fell almost at the beginning of the race and was out.
For Lakeside, Chase Fowers (16:22) was second, Eric Stokes (16:54) took third, Christian Bowles (17:15) was fifth, Mitchell Beck (17:21) was seventh and Kevin Howard (18:23) was 13th.
"They really gave everything they had and it shows," said Panthers cross country coach Jerry Meitin.
Evans sophomore Justin Weegar and Fowers have formed a rivalry this year with each topping the other by a second or less at different races. Saturday, the two held the lead at different times until Weegar was able to use a kick to outistance hs opponent, taking the boys individual title with a time of 16:17.
"For a while I thought he (Fowers) was going to beat me, then I pulled neck-and-neck the last 200 meters and then I just turned it on the last 100 meters and beat him at the end," said Weegar, who qualified for his first state cross country championship.
Evans coach Mike Lennox was happy with the way both his teams performed and with Weegar's effort.
"He ran it the way you're supposed to run it," said Lennox. "We've ingrained in him that he should be in every race to win the thing. Now he expects it, which is a major jump from last year. Because he expects it, he envisions it and knows what he's got to do."
Lakeside's Sarah Bowles (20:15) was a considered front-runner for the girls individual title, but finished in 20:15, second behind Houston County's Megan Asadian (19:36), and was dissatisfied wth her performance.
"It definitely wasn't a good day for me," said Bowles. "I'm really focusing on next week and moving past this.
Oher top finishers for the Lady Panthers were Hannah Marionneaux (20:39) in third, Jasmine Payne (20:49) in fourth, Jenny Lind (21:29) in sixth and Emily Clark (22:45) in 12th.
Greenbrier head coach Kati Smallwood was pleased with her team but was happy they have another chance to run this year.
"We knew within a couple of team place where we might be and would have liked to have been one up, but they ran really well today and so did the other teams," said Smallwood. "We're really looking forward to next weekend. We've got another opportunty to show what we've got."