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PREP NOTEBOOK: Reigning POY Calhoun leads Southland at first cross country meet; Sherwood’s football opener moved to Thursday

After a breakout freshman season during which he ran a 16:49 at the state meet and was named The Herald's Player of the Year, Southland's Wright Calhoun began his sophomore season this past weekend by winning the Raiders' first meet,

After a breakout freshman season during which he ran a 16:49 at the state meet and was named The Herald's Player of the Year, Southland's Wright Calhoun began his sophomore season this past weekend by winning the Raiders' first meet,

AMERICUS — As it turns out, Wright Calhoun is even fast in a driving thunderstorm.

The Southland sophomore and reigning Albany Herald Player of the Year for boys cross country dominated a muddy, rain-soaked field this weekend at the Raiders’ annual Kickoff Invitational, where Calhoun didn’t just finish first overall with a time of 18:11, he paced Southland to a first-place team win against four-time defending state champ Mount de Sales.

“I expected him to be fast, even in those conditions, but I didn’t expect us to nearly sweep the four-time state champs,” said Southland coach Patrick Calcutt, referring to the Raiders claiming five of the top six spots in the boys race. “I was very pleased by that.”

Calhoun, a 15-year-old admitted perfectionist who strives to break his personal-best every time he straps on his running shoes, likely wouldn’t call Saturday’s first outing of the 2013 season “fast” after he burst onto the prep running scene last year with a stunning 16:49 at the GISA state meet. But given the conditions and the competition, Calcutt has zero doubt a massive year awaits Calhoun, who already owns the school record — a mark he shattered in his first varsity race as a freshman last season.

“I do. I really do,” Calcutt said when asked if he expected Calhoun to dip into the low 16s or 15s this year and become one of the favorites to win the state title. “We will find out this weekend right where he is (among the state’s best) when we go to Macon and see some of the best runners from AAA and AA. Those guys will be his biggest competition, so he’ll get to see them in the second race of the year.”

Not to be lost in Calhoun’s big debut were the performances of his teammates, who pushed themselves this offseason harder than ever before in hopes of building the strongest team possible with Calhoun as its nucleus. Southland’s Billy Calcutt (third), Brian Miller (fourth), Geoffrey McDonald (fifth) and Ellis Ivey (sixth) weathered the rain and slop and nearly swept the field. Calcutt said he has already caught himself thinking about what it all means for the big picture of Southland cross country.

“All our guys really improved over the summer. For us to take that next step as a team, we had to set some goals, and it started with winning our first meet of the year and proving to ourselves we could beat Mount de Sales,” Calcutt said. “And right off the bat, we can check two of those goals off the list.”

The Southland girls, paced by eighth-grader and fifth-place finisher Sydney Hayes, finished second to MDS as a team. The Lady Raiders, who were runner-ups despite missing top runner Christine Shattles (stress-fracture in foot, out until midseason), had three first-time varsity runners finish in the Top 10, led by Hayes (fifth), Sarah Westra (sixth) and fellow eighth-grader Lilli Dickens (ninth). Crisp Academy’s Katherine McGarr took second overall with a time of 21:18.

Southland’s teams return to action this weekend at the Tattnall Invitational.

SHERWOOD FOOTBALL OPENER MOVED TO THURSDAY: Sherwood football’s third year under head coach Otis Covington will get started earlier than expected this season after Trinity Christian recently asked the Eagles to play on Thursday rather than Friday.

Trinity Christian, which defeated Sherwood in last year’s season opener, had renovations done to its stadium during the offseason and in an attempt to draw a larger crowd, the season opener was moved to Thursday.

“All the other high schools are playing at home in Dublin on Friday, so they moved it to Thursday to get as many fans out as they can,” Covington said. “They wanted to open in grand fashion.”

Thursday’s kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.