The Georgia Independent Schools Association cross country season concludes this week, and teams from Augusta Christian Schools and Augusta Preparatory Day School are expected to run to glory.
The Augusta Christian Lady Lions, who won region and state titles last season, will be favored to defend those crowns this year. AC begins its quest at the Region 3-AAA championship meet Monday at Augusta Prep (4:30 p.m. start). The Class AAA state meet will be held Saturday in Forsyth, Ga.
''They want to go back-to-back with region and state. That's our goal," Augusta Christian coach Beth Harden said. ''We'd be the first Augusta Christian team to win consecutive state titles, so there's a lot of pressure. We won't be overconfident. We really have to work hard."
By winning the state cross country meet last year, the Lady Lions became the first Augusta Christian girls' team to claim a state title in any sport.
Judging by their performances so far this season, the Lady Lions are even better in 2001. Annie Kim, and twins Rebekah and Sarah Madebach are leading the way, while Melissa Wright, Lindsey Hardy, Claire Cooper and Sarah Martin have helped AC remain unbeaten.
Harden credits the improvement to a new workout regimen which helps build strength and stamina. The gains have not gone unnoticed.
''Augusta Christian sets the standard for girls," Augusta Prep coach Mike Burley says. ''They have three knockout runners in Annie, Sarah and Rebekah, but it's hard when you're out front and everyone is gunning for you."
The Augusta Prep girls are paced by freshman Abby Alexander. The Lady Cavaliers have been improving their times throughout the season but have finished second in every GISA meet this year, behind Augusta Christian.
The Augusta Prep boys, on the other hand, are unbeaten in GISA meets in 2001. The Cavaliers also placed second in the Hilton Head Invitational, where they bested some strong public high school competition.
''When they were handing out awards, the Hilton Head coach paid us the ultimate compliment. He said he couldn't believe that a school with 165 kids could compete against schools with (2,000) to 3,000 kids," Burley recalled.
The Cavs will be the defending Region 3-AAA champions in Monday's meet.
''In region I've challenged my boys to take the top five places. They look so strong," Burley said. ''There are some strong guns out there, but we've set our sights on winning state this year."
Augusta Prep's runners have been steadily dropping their times during cross country meets this season. At the Sept. 29 Augusta Preparatory Day Schools Homecoming meet, David Bell finished the 5-kilometer course in 17:08 to set a new school record. Ashwin Rajendra, Alex Crean, Aaron Crais, Clint Luckey, Ryan Kuhar and David Levine all had strong runs at homecoming.
''It's easy to compare your progress on your home course, and we've had so many people improve. Some of our runners have cut two minutes off their times," Burley said. ''We're poised to set some more P.R.'s (personal records) in the region meet."
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