The South Georgia College cross country team takes to the trails for its opening meet on Saturday, Sept. 1, and the team is shaping up to be the best in the short history of the program. The Tigers are an inexperienced team – out of 15 runners on both the men’s and women’s squad, 10 are freshmen – but the youngsters have already demonstrated they have what it takes to be very competitive in the Georgia Collegiate Athletic Association’s Region XVII.
Over the last couple of years, the women’s team has been threatening the top teams in the conference. The Lady Tigers have always had a couple of really fast young ladies at the pointy end of the field, but the team has struggled to find its identity from third to fifth places. For 2012, the Lady Tigers are stronger and deeper than ever, and this could be the year that they show they are ready to compete with the best.
Leading the way for SGC is Charley Harrison, a sophomore from Wayne County. Harrison was one of the top high school runners in both cross country and track in Wayne’s region during her senior year. She spent a year in Atlanta at the Savannah College of Art and Design then sat out last year. This season, Harrison is back and is showing very good form early in the year. “Charley has worked very hard since January. She gets the most out of every mile she runs and is setting a great example for the younger girls. If she stays healthy, she could contend for a conference championship,” says SGC head cross country coach Robert Preston Jr. Right behind Harrison are sophomore Tia Ponsell from Pierce County, who holds the current women’s school record, and freshman Tori Irvin from Cape Coral, Fla. Ponsell had a very good freshman season despite undergoing an emergency appendectomy early in the year. She bounced back from the injury and set the school record in the final meet, earning a spot on the All Conference team in the process. After just a few short weeks of practice, Irvin has demonstrated that she will be one of the better runners in the conference as well. She works hard, never takes days off and refuses to settle for anything but her best. “Tia and Tori have the potential to be right up there with Charley. They are both hard workers with tons of natural talent. Tia has a solid base from last year and Tori came out of a great high school program. These two young ladies are two of the best we’ve ever had,” says Coach Preston.
Rounding out the women’s team are freshmen Christine Johnston and Samantha Arroyo, both from Marianna, Fla.; Brooke Logue, a freshman from Dodge County; Destinee Cason, a freshman from Ware County; and Coffee County sophomore Elizabeth Wilder. “These young ladies give us a great deal of depth, and all five are capable of breaking scoring for us. They are progressing well and getting faster every week. We’ve just got to stay healthy and get all eight to the start line at the end of the season,” says Preston.
The men’s team is as talented as it’s ever been. In an early-season 5K time trial, three broke 18:00 while everyone came in well under 20:00. Last year, for example, only three runners broke 20:00. Only two runners return for 2012; the other five are all freshmen and all come out of South Georgia high school programs. Four freshmen men are battling each other for the top spot after two weeks of practice: Wesley Worthy (Bradwell Institute), Timmy Evans (Valdosta High), Richard Smith (Colquitt County) and Pedro Martinez (Fitzgerald). Right on their heels are freshman Jose Castanon (Lowndes High), and sophomores Lyndon Jones (Lowndes) and Juan Castanon (Lowndes). “Watching these guys run every day is a lot of fun. They compete well against each other and motivate each other push the pace in each workout. Most of them raced each other in high school, so they were friends – and friendly rivals – when they came to SGC. Though they’re teammates, none wants to finish in second place. It makes for some lively practices,” comments Preston.
The cross country team competes in its first meet of 2012 Saturday, Sept. 1 in Albany at Darton College. Six days later, on Sept. 7, the Tigers head up to the foothills of the north Georgia mountains for a meet at North Georgia Technical College. After a couple of weeks off from racing, they are back in action on Sept. 29 (Skiles Farm, Albany), Oct. 5 (Point University), Oct. 12 (a home meet on the SGC campus) and Oct. 27 (conference finals at Chattahoochee Technical College). “We’ve had some great runners come through here who have established a tradition of excellence. This team understands that legacy and is ready to raise the bar even more,” says Preston.