For the second straight year, it appears heat will be a major theme for the Gwinnett County Cross Country Championship meet, both literally and figuratively.
The competition should be as hot as the sweltering weather when the runners from the county’s 23 teams compete Saturday morning at the Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers.
While the near record-breaking heat that has settled into metro Atlanta over the past week should lessen somewhat, temperatures still should range from the 70s to near 80 degrees, with increasing humidity when the gun goes off for the boys varsity race at 8:30 a.m. and girls varsity race of 9 a.m.
As concerned as the coaches are about how their runners will cope with that heat on race day, it is how they cope in preparing for the races themselves that is currently first and foremost on their minds.
With temperatures sweltering into the 90s and near 100 degrees in some spots the past week, practice routines have had to be adjusted to stay in compliance with GHSA standards.
“Our practices have been restricted, and one day, we weren’t allowed to practice at all, and we’re headed towards mid September. It’s amazing,” said Parkview boys and girls head coach Mike Demarest. “Everyone’s going to feel (the heat) no matter how they try to prepare for it. We’ll be running in the morning, but it will still be about 75 or 80 degrees. So it’s not just about being in shape (to handle the heat), but it’s the (runners) who drink the most water and stay hydrated.”
Both Demarest’s boys and girls teams should be among the team favorites in races that will feature competition just has hot as the weather.
The boys are coming into Saturday’s meet fresh off a team title at the Carrollton Orthopedic Invitational at Carrollton High School this past Saturday behind a top 10 individual finish from Tristan Autry, and fighting off strong challenges from Norcross, Brookwood and North Gwinnett in the process.
And with the Blue Devils, Broncos and Bulldogs, as well as Archer and Mill Creek, in the midst of a strong season, Demarest knows his Panthers will have to be at their best to challenge for their first county title since he has been head coach.
Still, he also knows that Saturday is the latest step towards even bigger prizes down the road.
“On the guys side, we’re coming off a big win last Saturday in Carrollton,” Demarest said. “We (finished third behind) Brookwood (by a single point at the Harrison Hoya Two-Mile Invitational) the opening week, and we know they’re not going to just lay down. And you can’t count out Norcross either. But I still like our chances.
“(Winning county) would be a neat accomplishment. It’ll be a nice measuring stick no matter what, but we’re also looking (ahead) to November. We’ve got some bigger fish to fry later on.”
Autry is one of several different runners who should challenge for the individual title, along with Archer’s Myles Collins, Grayson’s Chris Cherono, Brookwood’s Will Bray and Norcross brothers Miguel and Gabriel Schlicht.
In the girls race, the Parkview-Brookwood rivalry will also be highlighted among the team contenders, while Mill Creek, North and others should be right with the Panthers and Broncos in what should be just as close a competition as the boys.
But like Demarest with Parkview, Brookwood girls coach Chris Carter says his team attention is turned more inward than on the competition heading into Saturday’s race.
“Honestly, we’re just focusing on Brookwood right now,” Carter said. “We just want to go there and run well. The girls have run in some really competitive meets so far, and county should be the same. In addition to some of the top teams, there are some really good individuals from Archer and Hebron (Christian). So I think it’s going to be wide open.”
Indeed, while last year’s runner-up and third-place finisher, Mountain View’s Madison Watts and Archer’s Sarah McCartney, are among the individual favorites, others like Brookwood’s Reese Saddler, Hebron’s Brooke Browning and Georgia Piper and Dacula’s Karsyn Rodney should help make Saturday’s field a deep one.
What: 2019 Gwinnett County Cross County Championships
Where: Georgia International Horse Park, Conyers
8:30 a.m. — Varsity Girls
9:00 a.m. — Varsity Boys
9:30 a.m. — Championship J.V. Girls
10:00 a.m. — Championship J.V. Boys
10:30 a.m. — Two-Mile Middle School Boys & Girls Combined
11:00 a.m. — Open J.V. Girls
11:30 a.m. — Open J.V. Boys