TIFTON -- The Tift County High cross-country teams have always been among the strongest in Region 1-AAAAA. Head coach John O'Brien feels like that should not change in 2001.

The Devils and Lady Devils will be running today in the Valdosta Wildcat Invitational. O'Brien hopes his teams are ready to give a strong performance.

"Our boys have been working very hard in the heat and are showing remarkable progress," O'Brien said.

Among the returnees from last year's team that finished third in the region are junior Jason Garey. He finished 10th overall at the region meet last season. Other top runners returning are sophomores Josh Miller and Austin Moretz, as well as senior Heath Miller.

The coach feels like several newcomers on the boys squad should also do well. They include sophomores Adam McMillan, Elliot Sumner, Myron Miles, Shay Johnson, Tony Range and freshman Thomas Hightower.

"Our boys team has qualified for the state cross country meet nine of the last 12 years and this year's team is training hard to return to that level," O'Brien said.

To get back to the state, the Tift coach feels like the Devils will have to go through the Bainbridge Bearcats, the defending region champion; and Valdosta, who finished second last season.

On the girls side, the region title has been a fixture in the Tift County trophy case for the past six seasons. O'Brien says to stretch the streak to seven years, the Lady Devils will have to overcome injuries.

"We have a fine nucleus of runners, but several are injured. Senior Farron Paulk is coming off of knee surgery and will not be able to compete until mid-September. She was third in the region last year," O'Brien said.

"Jackie Wenslow, who was the region runner-up last season, is just returning from an ankle injury and is not quite at full strength. Also, Whitney Lightfoot is probably lost for the season because of knee surgery."

The cupboard is not completely bare for the Lady Devils, even with the injuries.

"We still have a strong group of runners, led by juniors Alexius Hightower, Chaunda Beauford, Getoya Cobb, sophomore Rachel Gibbs and freshman Allison Harten," O'Brien said.

In the region, the Tift coach is expecting Colquitt, Coffee and Ware County to be strong.

About his team, O'Brien said, "we can have a successful season if we can remain healthy and get our runners back from their injuries."

The Devils and Lady Devils will run at home Sept. 8, as they host the Tift County Invitational at the E.B. Hamilton Complex.

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