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State cross country: Can Westover's Taylor be first Lady Pats champ in 18 years?

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ALBANY -- Get the doughnuts ready.

It could be pay-off time Saturday for sophomore Ericka Taylor, who loves doughnuts almost as much as she loves running.

No one in Southwest Georgia runs the distance like Taylor, who will try to win the school's first Class AAA girls state title in 18 years in Carrollton on Saturday

"At least three people have promised to buy Ericka a dozen doughnuts if she wins state,'' Westover cross-country coach Harley Calhoun said. "She may have to open her own shop.''

It's hard to believe Taylor, who is pencil thin and rock-hard tough, cares about doughnuts, but anyone who knows her realizes how much she cares about running. She may be the best distance runner in Westover history.

Taylor, who is just 16, broke the school record, running two miles in 18:59 in the Westover Relays more than a month ago.

After the race she said that she had never thought much about winning a state title, but she would now.

The state cross country meet is Saturday, and Calhoun, whose boys and girls teams both won region titles last week to qualify for the state meet, feels Taylor is ready.

"I thought that the day of (the Westover Relays), because she ran so well against North Gwinnett's girls who are nationally ranked,'' Calhoun said. "She has really progressed as a runner.

"When she went to the state track meet last year she didn't run a good race in the mile, because she was overwhelmed by it. I talked to her after that race and told her that she got psyched out because she thought the other girls in the race were so much better than her. I told her that she was at the state meet because she belonged there and that she had to feel that she was just as good as the others there. She went out the next day and ran a great race in the two-mile and finished sixth and ran a personal best time.''

Calhoun knows Taylor belongs in Carrollton. So does Taylor, who hasn't lost a race to a girl from a Class AAA school all year. She ran at the Carrollton course two weeks ago and finished third to two girls from private schools in other classes, including Grace Tinkey, who is arguably the top distance runner in Georgia.

"She's ready,'' Calhoun said. "She's in her second year and she's got enough experience now that she knows what to do. One of the joys of coaching Ericka is that she learns from her mistakes and never makes them again. She knows she belongs. She knows she can win this race, and I know she will give it her all.''

Taylor, who was 19th at state as a freshman, will be one of the favorites, but the course is riddled with hills and the weather promises to be cold Saturday. Taylor and Westover caught a break, because the AAA race isn't until noon. Calhoun said temperatures for the morning races are expected to be in the 20's.

"I think the AAA race is wide open, and I think she is right there with about six or seven other girls,'' Calhoun said. "It's shaping up to be a dogfight. She needs to go out with the seven girls and stay up there with them. I hope she is up there head-on with them and make it a kicker's race. I think Ericka's got the best kick of any girl out there. And Ericka is a real competitor. She always trying to pass someone else, whoever is in front of her, she'll go after them and try to pass them. She's got a good chance to win it.''

If she does, Taylor will be only the second state champ at Westover and first since Regina Spahn won it all back in 1992.

Calhoun said he believes the top runners on his girls team -- Taylor, junior Elizabeth Golinski, sophomores Asia Bell and Toinnah Campbell and freshman Elizabeth Brown -- have a chance to finish as high as 15th at state this weekend. The five Lady Patriots captured five of the top six spots at region. Monroe's Davone Anduze qualified for the state meet by finishing second in the Region 1-AAA meet.

The rest of Westover's girls team that will be representing the school includes Sachi Daughety, Katie Donnan, Shanae Franklin, Kirsten Golinski, Mirella Palazzolo and Radhika Patel.

The Westover boys are led by Greg Thorne, who won the region title last week. Cole Koster was second, Sager Patel was third, Josh Mason, the only sophomore on the team, was fourth and Deion Paige was sixth.

"I think the girls and boys can both finish 15th (or higher),'' Calhoun said. "I think Thorne can finish in the Top 20 and Koster can finish in the Top 30.''

Also representing the Westover boys will be Kyle Baker, Michael Barron, Evan Drew, Tucker Greenfield, Kentavious Harris, Tim Vaiculevich and Gyasi Young.

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OTHER BOYS PROGRAMS WHO'VE QUALIFIED FOR STATE:

In Class A boys, Baconton Charter, coached by Sam Cromwell, will be represented by Braden Anglin, Andrew Blanton, Cody Carden, James Davis, Keon Graham, Lucas Haley, Matthew Hays, Sanjay Patel, Cain Smith, Zack Tedder, Bryton Wenzel and A.J. Winfree.

Pelham, coached by Ashley Cochran, will be represented by Christopher Burroughs, Chris Butler, Centrell Daniels, Christain Drake, Cullen Edwards, Guthrie Edwards, Antonio Green, Adam Kimmel, Jesus Martinez, Ruben Martinez, Ruben Rivera and Joel Venegas.

Seminole County, coach by Mark Carr, will be presented by Doug Bell, Michael Bell, Darren Brown, Jordan Davis, Deshwan Dixon, Bradley Harris, Daniel Hartzog, Juqwuan Murphy, Casey Prior, Brian Scott, Lapolean Washington and Warren Youmans.

Terrell County, coached by Weill Weston, Tobias Clay, Ricky Davis, Jeffrey Hayes, Ismael Haynes, Jatavious Hill, Cornelius Jackson and Sedric Peak.

In Class AA, Early County, coach by Jay Winkler, will be presented by Alex Cockrum, Jonathon Davison, Preston Dykes, Cody Giles, Dylan Green, Jonathon Griggs, Alex Jackson, Micheal Johns, Luke Johnson, Ted Pope, Isaac Rogers and La'Quavious Williams.

In Class AAA, Monroe, coached by Marquis Davis, will be presented by Larry Bellamy, Derrick Bernard, Alvin Butler, Benjamin Dunnaway, David Hamilton, Andre' Hawkins, Darrel Hines, Kevin McCauley and Jonothan Morine.

In Class AAAA, Bainbridge, coached by Mandi O'Mara, will be represented by Antonio Anderson, Joseph Ausgood, Kimani Crawford, Cole Farrington, Lee Glaze, David Golladay, Anthony Hall, Austin Hand, John Hemanes, Javious Mitchell, LaDarius Moore and Davey Reynolds.

Lee County, which is coached by Tom Matheny, will be represented by one runner, Jacob Kennedy.

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OTHER GIRLS TEAMS WHO'VE QUALIFIED FOR STATE:

In Class A, Baconton Charter, coached by boys coach Cromwell, will be represented by Ariel Brandon, Jenny Coalson, Tori Crosby, Abigail Finn, Samantha Finn, Lillian Harvey, Ashlea Johnson, Lauren Swanson, Jessie Taylor and Angela Wenzel.

Pelham, who is coached by boys coach Cochran, will be represented by Urssula Aviles, Octavia Kierce, Daisy Martinez, Elizabeth Phillips and Rebekah Smith.

Seminole County, which is coached by boys coach Carr, will be represented by Stormie Geiger, Sharon Hernandez, Natoria Jackson, Gabby Trujilio, Miranda Williams and Brittany Wilson.

In Class AA, Albany High, which is coached by Telly Turner, will be represented by Jessica Burnett, HiHeria Childs, Michele Edwards, Nikita Gordon, KairiShay Jackson, Allison Lewis and Tanisha Tumblin,

Early County, which is coached by Margaret Winkler, will be represented by Samantha Claybrook, Karen Facundo, Kaylyn Harrell, Makayla Johnson, Dallas Knox, Loren Martin, Jesse Still, Paige Still, Allison Thompson and Leola White.

In Class AAA, Monroe, which is coached by boys coach Davis, will be represented by Alexanderia Alexander, Davone Anduze, Shameica Carter, Destiny Collins, Camille Cook, Charimi Cook, Whitney Crawford, Ashley Johnson, Ericka Johnson, Akeema Miller, Jade Perry and Marlina Tongue.

In Class AAA, Bainbridge, which is coached by boys coach O'Mara, will be repsented by Amber Braswell, Paige Braswell, Sarah Carpenter, Caitlin Cato, Savannah Cook, Anna Jordan, Ashley Mango, Capria Miller, Ashten Oldaker, Anne Reynolds, Charlton Reynolds and Brittany Williams.

Lee County, which is coached by boys coach Matheny, will be represented by Mariah Davis, Laine Ellington, Abby Gillian, Rachel McDaniel, Samantha Nagy, Vanessa Pina, Diamond Rogers and Lauren Tosky.