Westover cross country Invitational enters 29th year this weekend

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ALBANY -- Westover cross-country coach Harley Calhoun knows his team hasn't won the Westover Invitational since 1994, and as the Patriots and Lady Patriots get ready to host the 29th annual event Saturday, Calhoun also knows exactly what's caused the drought.

"The Atlanta invasion,'' Calhoun said Thursday. "We get those powerhouse teams from Atlanta in here every year.''

Interstate 75 might get a bit crowded this weekend because 14 Atlanta-area teams, including the favorites in both the boys and girls meets, will make up the top echelon of the 32 teams that will run at the course at Robert Cross Middle School on Saturday morning.

"They love this course,'' Calhoun said.

And why not?

It's not only a flat course, which means runners have the chance to rip off their fastest times of the year, but the setting is a pecan orchard, making the course a bit cooler.

And if that's not enough, the course is flat-out beautiful.

"It's the most scenic course in Georgia,'' Calhoun said. "And once you get into those pecan trees, it's five degrees cooler. And the course is flat, so teams love to run it. Those big schools from Atlanta are looking to come in here and run the fastest times of the year.''

It could be memorable, because the favorite to win the boys meet is St. Pius, which is the top Class AAA team in the state and ranked fourth in all of Georgia regardless of class. The girls favorite is from North Gwinnett, the defending champ and the top-ranked girls team in all classes in Georgia, not to mention the 22nd-ranked program in the nation.

The local teams hoping to do the most damage will come from Westover, where the boys and girls are coming off titles in the Monroe Invitational a week ago, and from Lee County.

Calhoun is hoping his boys and girls teams will finish in the Top 10. Westover's Ericka Taylor won the Monroe Invitational last week in 20:50 and Greg Thorne won the Monroe boys title for the Patriots in 17:13.

"I'm hoping for a Top 10 finish in both the boys and the girls,'' Calhoun said. "And I'm hoping Ericka Taylor will break 20 minutes. If she does, she will be just the fourth girl in the 32-year history of Westover cross country to do that. And I'm hoping to have five boys get under 17:30.

The meet includes six local teams: Westover, Monroe, Dougherty, Albany High, Bainbridge and Lee County, which has two of the top runners in Southwest Georgia in Jacob Kennedy in the boys meet and Lane Ellington in the girls meet.

The girls varsity begins at 8:30 and the boys varsity begins at 9:25 a.m. The JV boys and girls meet starts at 9:50 a.m., followed by the middle school meet at 10:20.