Boys Top 25 Cross Country Countdown: #14 R.J. Reynolds

#14 R.J. Reynolds

Returning NCHSAA 4A Database Team Rankings: 7th

Returning NCHSAA 4A Midwest Team Ranking: 1st

2016 NCHSAA 4A State Championship Finish: 6th

2016 NCHSAA 4A Midwest Team Finish: 3rd 

Key Loses

Todd Holbrook

Thomas Anthony

Key Returners

John Tatter

Jack Holbrook

Anderson Ward

John Paynter

John Tatter and R.J. Reynolds take a big hit in Todd Holbrook and Thomas Anthony's graduation, but still return a strong squad with a good mix of young talent and senior leaders.  They do return Tatter, which is huge as he could be the 4A State Champion this outdoor track season.  He's the top returner with his 15:24 PR, was 3rd at the NCHSAA 4A State Championships last season and ran 9:09 on the track.  Tatter put a focus on the 3200 on the outdoor track and had a really good season despite taking 6th in the NCHSAA 4A State Championships running 9:15, a time that would win the race most years.  Tatter was 17th at Foot Locker South last year and with be the 7th returner in the South field coming into this season.  I think it's safe to think after a strong showing a year ago that he'll have a Foot Locker Nationals birth in the back of his head.  

Anderson Ward returns at RJR's #2 man and will have some big shoes to fill in his senior year.  Ward was RJR's #4 man last year running 16:54 as a junior.  On the track Ward went from being a 4:59 1600 runner down to 4:41.66 also running 10:05 for the 3200.  Ward was 63th at the NCHSAA 4A State Championships last year in XC posting one of his best performances of the year.  Each season Ward has taken another step forward with his running career, and I'd expect this season to be no different.  Rising Sophomore Jack Holbrook comes in as RJR's #3 man and is coming off a very strong freshman year where he ran 16:58.  He's the younger brother of Todd Holbrook and is ahead of where Todd was in his freshman year of high school.  Holbrook ran 4:42 last spring in the 1600, which is a very respectable time for a freshman.  Holbrook ran in the mid to low 17s most of his freshman year in XC and should be a consistent 16s guy this year.  I'll be expecting a similar break out that his older brother had at some point in his high school career, and this could be the year Holbrook steps up his game.

John Paynter returns as RJR's #4 after making big improvements on the track running 4:47 improving from 5:07 the year before.  Paynter also ran 10:21 for 3200 this outdoor track season.  He holds an XC PR of 17:14, but seems like he's capable of going faster this season.  As a rising junior they'll be hoping to a lot out of him this fall.  Ian Creech is also a rising junior and was in RJR's top 7 last season with a PR of 17:31.  Creech when from a mid 18s runner his sophomore year to a sub 18 guy last season, but will need to keep improving if RJR wants to have team success this fall.  Creech showed he had to potential on the track with a 4:48 1600.  It'll be interesting to see if RJR takes the team approach to have Tatter compete for the win and the 2 through 5 attempt to run as a pack because they seem like they should all be relatively close together.  

Andrew Rawlings will be a rising senior and after missing out of the top 5 last season he made great improvement on the track.  Rawlings was in his first year running for RJR and held a PR of 17:38, then got that down to 4:43 for 1600 outdoors.  At App State Team camp he took 3rd overall for RJR just a few seconds behind Jack Holbrook showing that he's likely going to impact the top 5 this season.  They'll also bring in a strong freshman in Jeff Echols who was the top 8th grader in Forsyth County middle school's last year in both XC and track.  He ran 10:43 for 3K on the grass and 5:02 for the 1600 outdoors.    Echols comes in with slightly better PRs that Jack Holbrook did last year, so he should be able to impact their top 7 this year, though it'll be tough to make.  This RJR team will have a little less firepower up front that last season, but I think they have plenty of potential in their returning athletes to fill their loses.