Mill Creek: The favorites entering the Gwinnett County Championships are the Hawks of Mill Creek. Fresh off their narrow loss to St. Pius X at Berry, Mill Creek is showing what few teams have - depth at 5th man. Mill Creek treated everyone to a clinic in how to pack-run as their 2nd through 5th man all finished in a row and within 3 seconds of each other (17:12-17:15). One potential weakness is a lack of a true front runner as #1 Joseph Muck only gapped his teammates by 11 seconds at Berry. With that said, Gwinnett isn't too stacked individually past the top 4 (more on that later), so Muck is completely capable of finishing in the top 10 or so - far from a punishing blow for a team with such depth. Someone's going to have to come steal it, and there are two teams who will be up to the task.
Parkview: The Panthers of Parkview have already raced three times this season including an upset victory at the Stage Races. Since then though, Parkview has looked vulnerable. They finished a solid 3rd at Spikes and Spurs in Florida but followed it up with a 10th place finish at Berry and were without consistent #1 runner Christian Corsello. For Parkview to beat Mill Creek, they must improve their 2-5 runners. Mill Creek dominated Parkview at Berry, and even if you plug in Corsello, it's still a 60 point gap; however, Parkview's Bryce Thomas and Tristan Autry were only 11 seconds behind Mill Creek's 5th man with Marquis Lynch and Jared Causey in striking distance. The "Road to the County Championship" is pretty clear for Parkview: Corsello must gap their #1 man, and Parkview's 2-5 must break up / beat / keep close to Mill Creek's, and then we'll all see where the points fall.
Brookwood: If you're counting Brookwood out of this meet, kindly raise your hand in the air and "neck" yourself (if you don't know what that means, just ask any high schooler). Winners of 7 of the past 9 Gwinnett County Championships (yes - 7 out of 9), the Broncos appear down this year, but Coach Ben Dehnke has shown an incredible ability to get his teams ready for the big ones. So far, they've appeared weaker due to their #1 runner Thomas Ridley's absence although it's rumored he will return for this meet. If that's the case, Brookwood becomes an immediate contender for the championship. If you plug Ridley into the Berry Invite at around 20th place, Brookwood loses to Mill Creek by a little over 50 points and actually puts them ahead of Parkview (assuming Corsello runs and runs within his means). In an invitational that deep, 50 points is almost nothing. Their probable 3-5 were only 7 seconds apart at Berry and were all within 20 seconds of Mill Creek's pack. This is a proud program with the strongest tradition in 7A; look for them to seriously contend for an unprecedented 8th title in a 10 year period.
Other teams to consider: Peachtree Ridge has the best 1-2 punch in the County in Chase Condra and Alex Haggard. Their 3-5 seem to be a little back for now, but if they can get those guys to move up and mix it up with the above teams' packs, it could spell trouble as they have the best #2 runner in the field. Grayson is another team with a solid 1-2 punch in David Gunn and Gabe McNett, but similar to The Ridge, they'll need help from their role players to make a run. Archer is rumored to be dealing with some injury concerns, but they've got a strong 1-2 punch in their own right in individual contender James Cragin and top 10 contender Myles Collins.
Overall Analysis: Mill Creek is the favorite with Parkview and Brookwood fighting hard to try and steal it. After these 3 teams, it'll be a mad dash for the final trophy with Peachtree Ridge, Grayson, and Archer appearing to be the favorites.
Chase Condra: A household name since his freshman year track season when he ran 9:22 at State, Condra comes in as the, albeit slight, (see below) favorite for the Gwinnett County individual title this Saturday. He started off with a bang, going sub-16:00 at Spikes and Spurs and followed it up with a strong 2nd place finish at Berry in 16:04. He's now broken 16 minutes six times in his career - far more than anyone else in the field - and if he's on, he could punish this field with a pace they may not be able to handle.
James Cragin: The disastrous leg injury to James Cragin is a distant memory now, and Cragin comes into the county meet as one of the favorites to win the championship. Cragin is fresh off a 16:31 3rd place finish at Double Dip (losing to a couple Marist runners he beat at Battle of Atlanta to also finish 3rd) and should be among the best this Saturday. He closed out his junior year track season with a 9:20 3200m at the Meet of Champions showing that so long as he can stay healthy, he's a force. Look for him to be up front the entire time on Saturday.
Christian Corsello: The 2017 XC campaign hasn't started out great for Corsello, but County is a great spot for him to recover. He struggled at Spikes and Spurs and then didn't run Berry, but he did run well at the Stage Races. A 4:23/9:30 runner this past spring, Corsello has what it takes to hang with the aforementioned two runners and has beaten both of them head to head in what has become a pretty cool years-long rivalry amongst these county foes. If he's on, look for him to be a contender with a solid chance of bringing home the gold.
Axel Avelos: The 4th member of this Gwinnett rivalry is Central Gwinnett's Axel Avelos. While Berry didn't go too well for him, Avelos is still a 4:25/9:43 track kid who has beaten these other 3 runners in the past. Perhaps what gives Avelos the best chance for a victory this Saturday is his course history; last year, Avelos took 4th place at County and 6th place at Area, and as a sophomore, he took 12th at County and 3rd at region - all on the same course - which shows great consistency and perhaps the best track record of the 4. Look for Avelos to mix it up with the other 3 and, if he plays his cards right, could win it.
Other athletes to consider: Thomas Ridley (assuming he returns) and Alex Haggard.
Girls' Team: Another 3 team battle...
Mill Creek: winners of 2 of the last 3 County Championships, the Lady Hawks of Mill Creek enter as the favorites. Led by sisters Camryn and Marisa Petit, Mill Creek has started the year strongly with a 2nd place finish at the Lambert River Run and a 6th place finish in a loaded field at Berry. The gap from their 1st to 5th runner could prove to be troublesome down the stretch, but in a weak overall team year for Gwinnett, Mill Creek has the star power and capable enough role players to win the team championship for Gwinnett.
Brookwood: On paper, Brookwood comes in as an underdog; however, there's a huge asterisk here because of the absence of Elizabeth Saliba who has not yet returned to action following a major leg injury last year during track season. It's possible that she returns this weekend, and if that's the case, Brookwood potentially leaps Mill Creek as the favorite. Even without Saliba, the Lady Broncos are still tough. Reese Sadler has stepped up big for Brookwood as she took 2nd in Mobile in 20:19. Similar to the Mill Creek boys, Brookwood's 2-5 all finished in a row at this meet, taking 13-16th place showing some depth. This team has the potential to win the championship without their #1, but obviously their road to the title becomes much easier if she returns. Either way, watch out for these ladies as they're well coached, and Chris Carter has proven he gets the job done when the pressure is on.
North Gwinnett: New to the spotlight is John Rowland's lady bulldogs of North Gwinnett, and they've got perhaps the best depth of any team in this race. Led by Sarah Melkerson and Makenna Kulzer, North's season has gotten off to a strong start - including a victory at the North GA Championships and a 3rd place finish in Carrollton. They're not quite as top heavy as Mill Creek and (healthy) Brookwood, but indications point to this team possibly having the strongest 5th runner which everyone knows is critical in championship racing. This team only has one county championship in their history (2010), but don't think that these ladies are afraid of duking it out with two proud programs and going for the title.
Other teams to consider: Peachtree Ridge. They've been short Mary Kathryn Knott so far this year, so they've not appeared as strong as their potential. Should Knott return this weekend, The Ridge Chicks throw themselves into contention for a podium spot but are probably not quite fast enough to take the top 3 teams. Norcross has started out pretty strongly and could be a factor for the 4th spot. Parkview, Dacula, Providence, Mountain View, and Archer are all pretty close on paper, making this a fun race for the final trophy.
NOTE: Due to the unknown status of Mary Kathryn Knott and Elizabeth Saliba, this preview won't include them directly; however, should either of them race, they're absolutely in consideration for the championship.
Skylar English: Dacula's Skylar English had a strong and relatively surprising junior year XC season capped off by a 3rd place finish at State and a 9th place finish at Meet of Champions. She's since followed it up with a victory at North Georgia and a 4th place finish at Carrollton, showing no signs of stopping. She comes in as the favorite for the championship this Saturday and will certainly improve upon last year's 5th place finish at County.
Camryn Petit: A top Gwinnett runner since her freshman year, Camryn Petit enters this Saturday as another favorite for the victory. She's got two 7A State top 10 finishes to her name and also won the County Title as a sophomore, showing strong course and meet history. She's been a sound leader for the Lady Hawks, and what better way to cap off her senior campaign than to win this meet for the second time.
Marisa Petit: New to the spotlight is Marisa Pettit who has already finished in the top 10 twice this year - taking 8th at the Lambert River Run and 9th at Berry - narrowly losing to Camryn. Marisa seems to be rapidly improving her running ability which could cause issues with the other contenders in the field.
Reese Saddler: As mentioned before, Saddler's 2nd place finish in Mobile kicked off what could be a special season for the Brookwood Lady Bronco. A prolific track runner while also still pretty new to the sport, Saddler has gained quick racing experience in the last year and is continually improving, making her a threat for the title on Saturday.
Others to watch: Chloe Hetherington (Mountain View), Sarah Melkerson (North), Makenna Kulzer (North), Lyndsey Fowler (North)
8:30 a.m. - Varsity Girls (up to 10 Entries) Top 25 Medals
9:00 a.m. - Varsity Boys (up to 10 Entries) Top 25 Medals
9:30 a.m. - Championship J.V. Girls - any grade (up to 15 entries) Top 25 Medals
10:00 a.m. - Championship J.V. Boys - any grade (up to 15 entries) Top 25 Medals
10:30 a.m. - 3200m Middle School Boys & Girls Combined (unlimited entries) Top 15 Medals
11:00 a.m. - Open J.V. Girls (Unlimited entries) Top 15 Medals
11:30 a.m. - Open J.V. Boys (Unlimited entries) Top 15 Medals