In five seasons, Richmond Hill High School cross country coach Levi Sybert has turned the program into one of the best on the coast.
Thats why the loss of Coastal Empire standouts Amanda Elliott and Corey Jones both now running in college shouldnt impact the Wildcats that much in 2014.
In other words, Sybert now has the Wildcats where they dont have to rebuild. They just reload.
We have athletes ready to take their place on the varsity, but some had to wait until our top runners moved on, Sybert said of Elliott and Jones. I hope to work harder to instill a sense of non-complacency this year more so than any other year.
Thats in part because when a team experiences success, its easy to coast. Its human nature. Its also because the Lady Wildcats expect to improve over last year, when the team finished eighth overall in Class AAAAA.
If we can get a tighter pack that moves forward by 30 seconds from where they left off last year, Sybert said. That would be amazing.
The boys, meanwhile, are gunning for a Region 3-AAAAA title, though it wont be easy with newcomer Camden County and a talented Bradwell Institute program in the hunt.
Both Richmond Hill squads return key performers from last season, starting with talented junior Rachel Hammesfahr, whom Sybert called one of RHHS most successful high stakes performers over the past three seasons, and this year she is even more focused, and strong senior Tanner Hicks.
I feel that he is ready to take his ability to the next level this season, Sybert said.
There are also a number of new faces on the team, including freshmen Luke Van Ginkel and Jenn Thorpe, whove made their coach take notice.
But even if the program has runners ready to step into roles vacated by Elliott, now at the Air Force Academy, and Jones, who opted for Savannah State to stay close to home, replacing them isnt the idea.
Losing consistent high performing athletes like Corey Jones and Amanda Elliott is really impossible, said Sybert, who also coached two-time state 800 champ Shaquille Walker, now at Brigham Young. I have learned over the years to be grateful that they came through our program, and know that it is not fair to hold upcoming athletes to their standards. It was a blessing to see those two succeed so much when it mattered most, but it was more sweet because of all the work we all did together to get there.
Thats the mindset, then, at a program where excelling in an individual sport means everybody matters.
Rachel, Tanner, Emily (Hollowell), Alycia (Ussery) ...we have a large group of runners that are going to reach high peaks and the journey truly makes the final destination so gratifying, Sybert said.
Unlike coaches in sports where each season results in a won-loss record, track and cross country coaches find other ways to measure success. For Sybert, who uses innovative training methods such as his annual Dawn to Dusk run, its how you do in the big meets that really says where your program is at and where it needs to go.
This is my fifth year of cross country at RHHS, Sybert said. I dont have much use for records, other than our program focus is to perform big at the high stakes meets, and we have an excellent track record for doing that, no matter the final overall place.
You do that by working hard and getting your kids to work hard, too.
We have a great balance of new runners and returners this year, Sybert said. Work ethic is paramount to a cross country teams success. I hope to instill great work ethic in the newcomers and pray that the veterans seize the opportunity to make positive influences that will impact their teammates for life.
Girls: Adamski, Carolina 9; Arai, Alexis, 11; Baublitz, Jackie 12; Birchfield, Elizabeth 9; Birchfield, Hannah 9; Bryan, Hannah 9; Buelow, Jackie 11; Coleman, Marin 12; Eichhorn, Abby 11; Ferguson, Peyton 10; Gaines, Nadia 12; Giorgianni, Chloe 12; Hammesfahr, Rachel 11; Higdon, Lauren 12; Hollowell, Emily 12; Infinger, Leah 11; Jackson, Kiana 12; Lane, Daryn 10; Sandow, Porsche 11; Seale, McKenzie 9; Steele, Sabra 11; Thornton, Juliana 10; Thorpe, Jennifer 9; Ussery, Alycia 11; Waters, Avery 10; Williams, Savi 12; Willis, Catherine, 11.
Boys: Bardsley, Joe 10; Birchfield, Eli 11; Carter, Caleb 12; Catibog, Joshua 10; Cheek, Kodi 12; Donna, Ryan 11; Franzel, Garrett 11; Franzel, Riley 9; Hammesfahr, Matthew 11; Hammesfahr, William 11; Harris, Austyn 12; Hedgepeth, Jacob 10; Hicks, Tanner 12; Hinz, Jacob 10; Jones, Jacob 10; Mierke, Avery 10; Norris-Elwell, Damon 11; Roberts, Khori 10; Schofield, Justin 10; Shimalla, Nicholas 10; Shortridge, Conner 12; Thorpe, Andrew 11; Van Ginkel, Lucas 9; Wells, Michael 12; Westlund, Sandor 10; Williams, Cooper 9; Zhu, Kevin 11; Zoufal, Dan 12.
Aug. 14 Team time trails at Fish Hatchery
Aug. 23 at Kickoff Classic, Daffin Park
Aug. 28 at Wayne County
Sept. 13 at Ray Miller Invite, Millen
Sept. 18 Wetlands Adventure Relay, RH
Sept. 25 at Savannah Christian (JV)
Sept. 27 at Aubrae Gunderson Invite (V), Conyers
Oct. 1 at Hilton Head (V)
Oct. 8 at Savannah Country Day
Oct. 15 RHHS Fishy XC Invitational
Oct. 23 at Wayne County (JV)
Oct. 31 at Region 3AAAAA meet at RHHS
Nov. 8 at State Class AAAAA meet,