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HAMMOCK: Preg runs to help Stars

Providence Christian’s previous head cross country coach, Scott Williams, knows his sport well. So much so that Covenant College hired him away after the 2009-10 school year to do the same job at a higher level.

The Lilburn private school sent its former coach off with some sadness and a large void, but also with the pride that he was taking a promotion.

Small private schools, particularly in this economy, are limited in hiring coaches from elsewhere, leaving scarce options to replace an experienced coach like Williams. The Providence job also came with a caveat — unlike some private schools, it didn’t have a cross country course or separate boys and girls coaches (the new coach would be leading both programs).

As it turned out, the school didn’t have to look far for a qualified coach.

Charlene Preg, a volunteer assistant coach last season, was offered the position and didn’t hesitate to accept it. Her two oldest children were runners at Providence — one, ironically, is running for Williams at Covenant — and her daughter is a junior runner for the Stars.

“I was privileged to take (the job),” Preg said. “I’m trying to maintain the success of the programs, that’s the best way to put it. And I’ve had a lot of assistance from Coach Williams and a lot of support from the school. ... It was a good opportunity to serve the school because I feel like cross country is a really important offering to our students.”

An active member of the Atlanta Track Club and a former college runner, Preg also knows her sport. She wasn’t sure about the responsibilities to head coaching, but the results have been golden.

The Providence girls unseated longtime power Wesleyan as the region champion last week and the boys team narrowly missed qualifying for state. The teams’ veteran runners — Stephen Dubbert and Sam Stephens with the boys, Claire Park and Joanna Preg with the girls — have helped the transition, particularly on a girls team with six freshman starters.

“It makes me smile (to see them do well),” Preg said. “My heart has been so excited for these girls.”

Providence is excited about its new coach, too.

“She’s done just a phenomenal job,” athletic director Michael Woods said. “Her demeanor, her attitude and her helping the kids improve, she’s been great.”

So is it safe to say he won’t be hunting a coach for the 2011 season?

“I’m going to have her come back, you bet,” Woods said.

Who can blame him?

Will Hammock can be reached via e-mail at will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Thursdays.