By Brandon Brigman
Andrew Hudson is grateful for his Collins Hill girls cross country program.
He knows he's been blessed with several great runners that have contributed to the success of the team in recent years.
But he also remembers the times when the Eagles were struggling to get over the hump.
"I felt like we were knocking at the door for a few years," Hudson said. "We had been trying since 1998 when we first had a shot. In 2001, I felt we had a good shot. In 2002, I think we should have won it. By 2003 I was beginning to wonder if we were ever going to get it. It just seems like you have to pay your dues.
"The Parkview boys in some ways were the same way. They had really strong teams before they were able to breakthrough and win."
But in 2003 Collins Hill changed things around. The Eagles won their first cross country title and have continued to win since. Collins Hill will go for its fifth straight title Saturday in Carrollton.
The following year, the Parkview boys won their first cross country title since 1993. One of the runners on the '93 team was James Tigue, who is now in his third year as the Panthers' head coach.
"Yeah, we'll definitely have a target on our back," Tigue said. "This is probably one of the more competitive state meets in a long, long time. There's really four or five teams that have a possibility of winning it."
Since winning the title for the first time in 11 years, the Panthers have not let go. Parkview will go for its fourth straight on Saturday and its ninth overall.
"Obviously we're shooting for a fourth state title," Parkview's Josh Pinson said after the region meet. "Walton and Brookwood will be pushing us and they're strong. We'll have to have the best races of our lives to bring it home again."
Since the Georgia High School Association expanded to five classifications in 2000, a Gwinnett County boys cross country team has won the state meet every year.
"We're very aware of that." Tigue said. "This is just a great county as far as cross country."
Even more impressive, since 1984 only five teams outside of Gwinnett have won boys state in the highest classification. Parkview won eight titles during that time, including the last three in Class AAAAA. Brookwood (8), South Gwinnett (1) and Collins Hill (1) have also won titles.
Along with Pinson, Brian Detweiler, Brett Richardson, Evan Marbury, J.J. Van Tonder, Cody Allen and Lucas Carlson will run for the Region 8-AAAAA champs.
Pinson, who won the individual region title, is one of a handful of runners in contention for the individual state title. Collins Hill's Philip O'Brien and Rob Manning, Parkview's Detweiler and Richardson, Pope's Miles Svoboda, Wheeler's Matt Cleaver, Lassiter's Zack Flickinger and Kell's J.P. Hackney all have realistic shots of winning state.
"He's going to be one of the front runners," Tigue said of Pinson. "Early in the year he wasn't picked as a favorite, but the great thing about our sport is it's not about how you run at the beginning of the year, but at the end."
Collins Hill and Parkview aren't the only teams looking to continue their title runs. The Wesleyan boys have won the last two Class AA state championships. The Wolves have won four titles since 2001.
Dacula could also play a role in the Class AAAA title race.
The Falcons won the Region 8-AAAA championship, led by Mike McClay, who was the individual champion.
The last four years Jackie Drouin, one of the top runners in county history, led the way for the Eagles. The Columbia University freshman won the last three individual state titles, but the Eagles have another runner that could continue that trend.
Amanda Winslow, who moved from Ohio in January, has emerged as a heavy favorite to win state.
"I really do. I think she can run the exact same race as Jackie has the last two years," Hudson said. "I'm hoping that's what happens."
Of the six meets Winslow has raced in, the junior has won three (Gwinnett County, Mill Run and Region 7) and placed second in two others (Carrollton Invitational and Coach Wood).
Along with Winslow, Nicky Akande, Allyson McGinty, Briana Crawford, Sydney Williams, Alexa Maring and Katie Gezon will run for the Region 7 champs.
The only team to beat Collins Hill this year is Mountain Brook (Ala.) at the Great American Cross Country Festival. The Eagles have not lost to a team from Georgia since Parkview beat them last year at the Carrollton Invitational.
"I think they still have the hunger and desire and still get motivated (for the state meet)," Hudson said.
"I can't imagine anyone showing up in Carrollton on the day of the state meet and not have that adrenaline. I hope it never gets to be old hat."
SideBar: State Meet
' What: State cross country championships
' When: Saturday
' Where: Carrollton High School
8:30 a.m. - AAAA
10:00 a.m. - AA
11:30 a.m. - A
1:00 p.m. - AAAAA
2:30 p.m. - AAA
9:00 a.m. - AAAA
10:30 a.m. - AA
1:30 p.m. - AAAAA
3:00 p.m. - AAA