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PREP CROSS COUNTRY: Darlington boys, girls at top in state rankings

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Darlington School

Although it’s still early in the cross country season, a handful of local teams have made big impressions throughout the state. Several local teams are ranked in the top 10 of their respective classes. Perhaps no local program has turned as many heads this season as Darlington’s boys and girls squads.

In the most recent Ga.MileSplit state rankings, both sets of Tigers sit atop the Class A Private School rankings. The boys, coming off a state runner-up finish last season, have produced impressive results at a few early-season meets.

The boys finished third at the Clara Bowl Invitational and grabbed two top-10 finishes at the Double Dip Invitational and the Knights Crossing Invitational. All of those races featured the Tigers competing against teams from much larger classifications.

“It’s great validation as a coach and for our team, because we’re working really hard,” Darlington coach Alan Parish said. “The boys started the preseason No. 1, and we’re still there right now. It’s nice to know that people are noticing what we’re doing.”

The girls have also run extremely well. Last season they finished third at the Class A Private School meet, and so far this season they have been running with the best in the state in any classification. The Lady Tigers placed sixth at Berry and also recorded top 10 finishes at Double Dip and Knights Crossing.

“The girls have moved up in the rankings. I think they were frustrated when we started out and were third or fourth,” Parish said. “I think our girls deserve it (the number one ranking), and they can be that good.”

The Tigers aren’t the only local teams ranked or receiving mention in this week’s polls. In Class AA, Calhoun’s boys are ranked fifth, and Pepperell’s boys are ranked ninth. Model’s boys are on the watch list. Model won the Region 7-AA title last season. Westminster sits atop the boys’ poll.

On the girls’ side in Class AA, Model is ranked sixth, and Coosa is ninth. The Lady Eagles have won the last three Region 7-AA titles. Wesleyan sits atop the rankings.

Rome High’s girls represent the other local team ranked in this week’s polls. The Lady Wolves sit in 10th place in the Class 5A poll.

The Tigers and several other teams will put the lofty rankings on the line this Saturday as the school plays host to the 10th Darlington Cross Country Festival. The meet features varsity, junior varsity, middle school, elementary school and open races.

The girls’ race boasts five teams currently ranked in the top 10 in Class A, including Providence Christian and Pace Academy, which are ranked second and third behind the Lady Tigers.

The boys’ race also features five Class A state-ranked teams, including Pace Academy, which is ranked third.

Several top-ranked teams from other classifications are also slated to run in the event.

Marist’s girls are the top-ranked team in the all-classification poll and nationally ranked as well. They will be running in the meet as well as Etowah, which is the number-two ranked team in the all-classification poll.

In the boys’ race, Marist brings their No. 1 ranking in Class AAA to the meet, and Etowah’s boys enter the meet with the No. 4 ranking in Class 6A.

“The girls’ race is loaded and we have a lot of strong boys’ teams as well,” Parish said. “My goal is to try to get a lot of the schools from Atlanta up for this meet, and I think we have a very strong field.”

While schools will receive awards based on their classifications, the girls and boys races will feature runners from all the schools in the same race. Because of the size of the field, the girls and boys varsity divisions had to be split into separate classification races in previous years. A redesign of the course allows all of the runners to compete head to head.

“We give awards to the top team in each classification, because it’s a way to recognize the different schools,” Parish said.