After winning a two-state title for the third year in a row in December, the South Aiken High NJROTC orienteering team members proved last weekend they belong among the nation's elite.The squad finished a solid fifth among 27 teams competing at the Orienteering Nationals at Withlacooche State Forest near Tampa, Fla."Fifth is pretty impressive," said ROTC instructor Richard Barnes, the team's coach. "We have just two seniors, so the guys have their sights headed toward (the nationals at) Maryland next year."The team members who made the trip include Captain Nolan Shanahan, Fernando Rodriguez, Jacob Pryzwara, Jay Sparks, Adrian Coleman, Alex Hightower, Josh Klockman, Joshua Brown, Greg Flippen and Josh Livingston.Others on the squad are Sara Pryzwara, Sarah Bauerlin, Jon Kaminski, Shane Shanda, Josh Price, Cullen Hightower, Zachary Johnson, Christian Romero, Daniel Rodriguez and Brittney Black.Orienteering is a sport in which participants run a typically 5K course over uneven terrain, relying on maps to get from point to point. Team scores are based on individuals' points they obtained based on how they place.South Aiken won the North and South Carolina state championship at Kings Mountain National Military Park in North Carolina. The terrain is hilly with 300-foot elevation and 60-degree angles in some places, said Barnes. Most competitions have those conditions, and overall, they're easier to navigate. The layout at the nationals was much different."It was a long, flat terrain with a lot of sand," said Shanahan. "It was the first time for us in those conditions, and it looked a lot easier than it actually was."Temperatures were relatively mild at the start, but the weather quickly turned hot and humid.There was a lot of underbrush, and navigating under those circumstances was demanding."It took us a while to get used to it," said Shanahan. "My legs were dead after the first two miles. But we did better than we expected."Greg Flippen said his legs too "were getting destroyed and it was hard to read the terrain. But it was different and so I enjoyed it," he said. "I like challenging myself."Barnes has been with the NJROTC program at South Aiken since 1994 and has worked off and on with the orienteering team for about 11 years."It teaches the kids teamwork and self-reliance," he said. "It's a chance for them to be part of something special."The team members run on different courses, with the "green" course intended for those with the most experience and ability. Josh Livingston was the medalist for South Aiken at the nationals, traversing the course in 61:04. Jacob Pryzwara was the medalist at the Carolinas state meet."These guys like to challenge themselves," said Barnes. "Some will continue to do orienteering past high school, as there are clubs in almost every state. I'm very proud of them."Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001. He is a native of Walterboro and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.