Runners take off from the start line of a senior boys cross-country race at Crescent Park last fall. The new season begins this week.

South Surrey cross-country runners lace up

Earl Marriott expected to challenge for provincial podium spot later this fall.

The sneakers of young Semiahmoo Peninsula runners are about to get muddy.

The high-school cross-country season got underway this week – the first race on the Surrey calendar was staged Thursday afternoon at Crescent Park – as teams from across South Surrey lace up and take aim at a provincial cross-country title, which will be decided later in the fall.

South Surrey runners often fare well in cross-country – last year, the Semiahmoo Totems’ senior girls team placed third in B.C., while Earl Marriott’s Jaxon Mackie won a junior boys title, among other top finishers – and this year could bring similar results, according to a handful of coaches from South Surrey.

And the Earl Marriott Mariners may be the cream of the crop, if the aforementioned coaches are to be believed.

“They’re the team to beat this year, I think… They’ll be very good,” said White Rock Christian Academy cross-country coach Davey Gin.

Gin’s praise for the opposition in no way discredits his own crew of runners, which he said numbers about 25 and includes a handful of talents at the Grade 8 and 9 level.

“It’s a bit of a building year, with a lot of our runners being younger,” Gin said.

“But it’s looking good. We have a big team, (considering) we’re such a small school.”

Likewise, Elgin Park Orcas cross-country coach Greg Worsley – who is also the Surrey and Fraser Valley co-ordinator for the sport – said his 2016 team is larger than usual in numbers.

And while Earl Marriott may be the prohibitive early-season favourite, Worsley said “we should have a clearer idea” of which schools are the ones to beat after the first race or two.

Earl Marriott’s senior teams boast a deep roster of talent – buoyed by a few newcomers – but will be led on the girls side by cross-country and track-and-field runner Georgia Ginther, whom EMS athletic director Taylor Clift predicted “will be a force” on the trails this fall.

In addition to Ginther, the Mariners’ senior girls team includes many members of last year’s banner-winning track-and-field squad from last spring.

“We have two very competitive senior teams,” EMS cross-country coach Scott Kent told Peace Arch News.

“Both the boys and girls teams are very strong and should make a run at a top-three finish at (provincials).”

Kent said his team “lucked out” when he discovered that over the summer, the sibling tandem of Dawson and Hayley Ribiero – formerly of Semiahmoo Secondary – moved into the EMS catchment area and switched schools.

“They’re two of our top runners, so it really gives us a lot of depth – you need five (quality) runners on each team if you want to finish (high) at provincials,” Kent said. “Though it is still a little bit of a shock to see them in green (Marriott’s school colours).”

Kent was also excited at the prospect of getting Mackie back into his cross-country lineup. The Grade 11 runner and junior champ has been sidelined after suffering a serious ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injury playing soccer that required surgery.

“He says he’s back training so hopefully he should be able to get back to a couple races,” Kent said.

“He’s really our dark horse – if he is healthy, we could have two senior boys in the top 10 at provincials.”

B.C. Cross-Country Championships are to be held Nov. 5 in Peachland.

Surrey runners will be busy in the next few weeks. In addition to yesterday’s race – hosted by Elgin Park – a second race is set for Crescent Park on Thursday, Sept. 28, this time hosted by White Rock Christian. A race at Bear Creek Park is set for Oct. 6, and Fleetwood Park will host the final event on the Surrey calendar Oct. 20.

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