Last weekend not only signaled the start of a new football season, but it also ushered in a new year for fall's most endurance-tested athletes.
Yes, cross country season has reached the horizon, and a couple of local teams -- Cartersville and Cass -- began their seasons Saturday, with a couple more to join them soon.
Cartersville, which swept the Bartow County Championships last year, had the best season among all local programs, qualifying both its boys and girls teams, as well as having Lindsay Anderson, a 2011 graduate, make it to the state meet individually.
Woodland was the only other school to send either an individual or a team to state, with former runner Cameron Leonard qualifying for the boys' meet.
A new season equals an opportunity for more runners to make some noise, and it should be interesting to see who has put in the miles during the summer and is ready to take the next rung up the cross country ladder.
Below is a look at each Bartow County school.
A rebuilding effort appears to be under way at Adairsville, where both the boys and girls programs are under the direction of first-year coaches John Ford and Kristen Martin, respectively.
Each program will take baby steps this year following a season where the boys finished ninth at the Region 7-AA meet, while the girls -- who began 2010 with a few runners -- did not have a single runner compete in the meet.
"Both coach Martin and I are in or first year of coaching," Ford said. "Really we're in a building program right now. ... I hope to be competitive. We're not going to break any records this season."
Ford has a few veteran runners in Virgil Gentry, an all-county selection, and Christian Warren, but the bulk of his 14-man roster consists of freshmen.
"I got two or three strong seniors and then it's mostly freshmen. ... I got some good freshmen coming up," he said, listing Reece Spencer, Michael Willoughby and Jared Summitt amongst those runners. Another runner, junior Evan Gossett, also is expected to contribute.
"I'm really looking forward to the next couple of years. I think with the freshmen we have this year we could be competitive at the state level [in the next few years] ... which would be the first time in Adairsville history," Ford said.
As for this year, he added, "Our first meet is on [Saturday at Armuchee], so that will tell a lot."
Martin echoed many of Ford's sentiments about her team, adding that they will need to grow together.
"Our biggest expectation right now is simply to compete. The team has more than tripled in size compared to last year," she said. "Most of the newbies are freshmen, and I am new to coaching cross country, so we are learning together. We don't really know what we are up against until our first meet at Armuchee this weekend, so we'll see what happens then."
"Amy Fisher is returning as our team captain this year. Amy is one of our hardest workers and is an awesome motivator for the other girls on the team. Also returning are Katelyn Robinson and Amber Wallace," Martin added. "Both of these girls are just true, natural born runners. The skill they bring to the team is phenomenal. I expect to see great things come from these two in our meets this year."
Both the boys and girls teams are coming off fourth-place finishes at the Region 7-AAA meet, which gave them the final spots in their respective state meets at Carrollton. Coach David Matherne thinks his team can do better this season.
In regard to the girls, Matherne said, "I like what I see so far. ... We're still in the same region, with the same tough teams, and we've already seen Pickens and they're good. We want to be where we'd like to be by region and that is going back to state, so that's a top-four finish. We were fourth last year. We'd obviously like to improve on that, and I think we got the girls to do it. I think we've got a strong enough team, a deep enough team -- lot of new faces."
Cartersville's girls total 30-plus on a roster that reaches 82, once the boys are factored in.
"We've got just a lot a lot of brand new kids that are trying it, so it's a good thing. But, you're never as deep as you want to be. You're always an injury or two away from being a dramatically different team," Matherne said. "We are strong through three or four, and I'm including Kyra Gore in that [even though] she did not run at [the] Pickens [Preview]. What we saw at Pickens was Dorie Brunzelle, Talitha Cherer, two seniors; and then a freshman phenom in Kirsten Horstman; and I would put Kyra Gore in that group as well, so we got three strong seniors. And then we got some new folks. Elyse Hoganson returns; she was a top-five [runner] last year. Emily Quinn was a varsity runner; she returns."
"We just got a lot of experience, but it will depend on how injury-free we stay, like anybody," he added. "And I think those top handful that I've mentioned are gonna be just trading places from week to week 'cause 15 seconds or so separated the three of them. That's a great little pack."
For his boys team, Matherne said it will be a "matter of hunger."
"It's the same team, essentially, that we had last year -- we lost a few seniors -- but how badly do they want to do all the little things? Because they know what to do -- tons of juniors, a few seniors," he said. "I knew that last year when we had such talented sophomores that we were gonna be good for a while. You can get complacent when you're pretty good, and last year we were pretty good. This year I want to be better than pretty good, and I think the guys want it, too. They worked hard this summer, led by some strong juniors and seniors. I just don't where to stop when you go down the line."
Last year's No. 1, and all-county rookie of the year, Roger Herrera returns followed by Lawson Crowe, both are juniors, senior Zach Cravey and Troy Hickom, another junior.
"You get a good No. 5 guy, then you're gonna be solid as gold. ... Three or four guys are capable of being that guy," Matherne said. "Our task is to pick off a team or two between now and [region] because I know Allatoona's gonna be good, and I know that Dalton's gonna be good." The coach also mentioned last weekend's meet host, Pickens, among the top region contenders.
"Individually, my expectations are to get somebody to make some noise at the region meet and the state meet, and I think we have some folks who can do that," Matherne continued. "I'm looking for somebody to say, 'Cartersville is back in the game,' because we've had several region champions and state champions, and we got some kids that can bring that kind of success back."
There appears to be plenty of talent in the pipes with Cartersville's middle school team impressing the longtime coach over the weekend.
"The middle school team is extremely strong. I usually don't talk about the middle school with the high school program, but they have 80 [runners] also, and they won Pickens, both the boys and the girls. The boys won by one point, the girls won by two points. They went 1-2 for the girls, and they just have a lot of depth ... so that's good for the future if you're a Cane fan," Matherne said.
The boys cross country team at Cass could be set up for an improved season after last year's 10th-place finish at the Region 7-AAAA meet. The team returns it top runners and adds some new blood as well.
"I think we have the potential to be better than we were last year," coach Michael Durham said. "Our top three from last year return and that is James Gunnels, Jordan Morning and Edgar Victoria, plus a couple more who lettered last year [are] coming back, [along] with some athletes that will help the varsity be better.
"James is a senior and [our No.] 1 from last year, and he should vie for that spot again this year. [I am] really looking forward to him having a breakout year.
"Jordan is a sophomore, and he really improved all year and with that year's experience, he should be one of the top runners again.
"Edgar is a junior and has been on varsity the last two years, so his experience will help him keep pushing for the top spot again this year."
Gunnels, Morning and Victoria each earned honorable mention for the all-county team in 2010.
At last weekend's opening meet, the Mercy Invitational, freshman Jaison Morning ran a 19-minute, nine-second race to finish as the first Cass boy followed by his brother Jordan, freshman Logan Sorenson, sophomore CJ Edwards and Gunnels.
As it pertains to the girls, Cass also returns some of its best runners as it looks to better its mark from last year's region meet, where it finished 10th.
Leading the way for the girls team will be all-county selections Savannah Casey and Hannah Hood.
Of Hood, coach David Rawlins said, "She is a junior and will be in the running for the county championship. [I] look for many good things out of Hannah this year."
Fellow junior Casey will add to Cass' 1-2 punch.
"[Casey] will also challenge for the top spot in the county," Rawlins said of his star runner, who finished 36th in the 16-team Mercy Invitational last Saturday. "I look for her to make big strides at qualifying for the state meet."
Adding to Rawlins' roster will be one of the team's youngest runners, freshman Savannah Hardin.
"She is running really good and will be right there with the other two girls, and she has a great running career ahead of her," he said. "She will make a difference at many meets this year."
Hardin ran the meet at Our Lady of Mercy in 23 minutes, 16 seconds, finishing just behind Casey's time of 22:59. Hood, Angelica Victoria, Katie Brannon, Tori Turk and Sarah Iftikar rounded out Cass' top seven runners.
"We will look for great things to happen for the ladies this year," Rawlins said.
A list of returners for either the boys or girls team could not be confirmed, but possible returners this year include seniors Megan Gudger, Mallory Rosiek and Dollieteah Strickland, juniors Ashley Barrera, Tyler Bucher and Amber Fuller, and sophomores Jake Elder and Jake Roberson.
At last year's Region 7-AAAA meet, the Woodland girls finished eighth and the boys ninth.