GUYTON — As she enters her 20th season as the head coach of the South Effingham cross country team, Laura Soles will be going into her fourth classification change.
During Soles’ first year at South, the Mustangs were AAA. Now she’s reached the highest class she’s ever coached in — AAAAAA.
Although they are familiar with a couple of the teams they will face, her runners will have to kick into a different gear when it comes to competing against Richmond Hill, a team that could certainly put their string of region titles in jeopardy.
“I’ve been in AAAAA and AAAA,” Soles said. “I don’t think it’s fair that Richmond Hill (which is Region 2-AAAAAA due to geopgraphical isolation from AAAAAAA schools) is in it. It is what it is.”
But Soles knows how to train runners to compete in almost every classification. And she has a large class of runners, which will provide much-needed depth.
In the past, she has struggled to maintain a solid number of athletes, saying sometimes they get pulled in different directions. As runners juggle responsibilities, such as working a part-time job, it can make proper training difficult.
“That’s my fear,” Soles said. “I don’t want to lose any of them. I’ve got to push that team because they are at the age where they can drive and go to work.”
On the boys side, the team graduated Aiden Anderson, who consistently broke 20 minutes and was the lone senior from a year ago. But the Mustangs return solid runners in Cailan Howard and Jacob Mitchell, and have two incoming freshmen, Tyler Phillips and Julian Howard, who look promising.
“Jacob Mitchell — I hope he does well,” Soles said. “He’s very quiet but he leads by example.”
The Mustangs also boast a strong group of juniors led by Cheyenne Ryan.
“On the girls side, I’ve got that solid team I’ve had,” Soles said. “I had five middle schoolers last year and they are all running this year. They are ready to have a race.”
Soles sees the move to AAAAAA as an opportunity for her team to enhance their level of skill.
“It was kind of easy because we were the region champs the last two years,” Soles said. “I want to be out of AAAAA. We need more competition.
“We will see what happens. You want the kids to do well. This group of kids, I am excited about them.”