Class AA Preview
The past few years class AA has provided some interesting races though usually ending the same way....a Westminster sweep of the big Cup and a 6-AA sweep of the top 3 spots (with the exception of the 2009 Boys race) occupied by Westminster, Lovett and Blessed Trinity (and Cross Keys boys in 2010) 6-AA and 8-AA are the big players in this drama with every season 8-AA creeping up just a bit to possibly challenge for a top 3 spot with the exception of the East Jackson boys in 2009 who had some excellent coaching with Bob Roller at the helm assisted by Jon McCartney (Yifter) The Girls have stood pat with the 3 private schools continuing in dominant form.
Girls AA Team
I've had my eyeball on this one all season and Westminster may have began stronger than any season in recent history in contrast to their usually slow starts in late August until Carrollton Orthopaedic. Sahara Fletcher may have been nursing a nagging injury early on, but has regained her old form as of late leading the Lady Cats to a comfortable margin over Blessed Trinity at region. Michelle Sullivan has also been a big gun solidifying a potent 1-2 duo. But the Lady Titans have shown much improvement over the season and with just a slip or 2 by Westminster may be right where they want to be come Saturday. BT has a solid power duo theirselves led by Bailey Willet and Anna Gandolfo, if there 3-6 runners step it up at Carrollton it could go down to the wire. But on paper and displayed at Region the Lady Cats have a big advantage with their 3-6 runners.
Lovett is not without their opportunity, as the Lady Lions were just 8 points behind Blessed Trinity at Buford last Thursday. Lovett has 2 frontrunners themselves led by Hailey Branch and Emmala Moffett. Their fate will also depend upon their 3-6 runners. The battle for the 4th and last Podium spot will be titanic with North Oconee, a very surprising Greater Atlanta Christian squad and Jackson County. GAC has been an enigma this season having their ups and downs, but brought it all together at the 6-AA meet . Like the aforementioned squads the Lady Spartans have a potent top 2 in Abigail Mistretta and Kelsey Fervier but their 3-5 came up big when it counted pushing them into a state berth.
North Oconee has been a mystery from week to week, which is interesting since I know the coaches, the program and former runners. One young lady who is no mystery to anyone is sophomore Olivia Pigg. Pigg is the daughter of UGA XC coach Jeff Pigg and did she ever perform in Albany in winning the 1600 AA State title in 5:17.35. My question is what happened to soph Dorie Faber who was a strong 3200 runner? But Coach Ralph Moore and Kali Bennett coached up another soph, Emily Measel, who missed a couple meets in October but she came up big at Region juicing the Lady Titans to the title after not qualifying for State in 2010. Jackson County also has a good shot to make the Podium led by senior Rachel Pasko and runningmate Sydney Baird. Dawson County and Jefferson should round out the top 8 spots making it a 6-AA/8-AA party in this class. The question is who will fill out the top 10? Thomasville has been laying low, way down South, having not competed above the "gnat line", choosing not to compete at Westover. Bleckley County dominated the 3-AA meet much like T'Ville did in 1-AA and I see these 2 schools having the chops to end up in the top 10. St. Vincent's Academy has managed to crack the top 10 in the past due to cannibalization of decent squads in 6-AA and 8-AA and Coosa if they have a good race could make the grade.
Girls Individual Race
Many of the top young ladies have already been mentioned above, but let's delve a little deeper....Sahara Fletcher is the favorite to win the overall Individual state title. She has the talent, experience and seems to be healthy again. Sahara posted an 18:17 at the Asics Invitational proving she was back in form and if anyone challenges her this Saturday it will be a combination of she's not 100% and her challengers are having great races. Senior Madalyn Waters of Dawson County was curiously absent from a couple of meets in NE Georgia during October, but toed the line in Region 8-AA at a the moderately challenging Oglethorpe County course and destroyed the competition clocking a 18:55 (winning by almost a minute) if anyone has a shot at Fletcher it could be Waters. Looking at the stats are a bit deceiving as Hailey Branch from Lovett, Michelle Sullivan of Westminster, Bailey Willet and Anna Gandopho of Blessed Trinity had their fastest times on flat tracks including Bob Blastow and Asics. North Oconee's Olivia Pigg, Jackson County's Rachel Pasko and Waters from Dawson County had their pr's on more challenging courses so watch out for those 3 from 8-AA to crack the top 5 and perhaps challenge Fletcher.
Boys AA Team
There is a song by Aerosmith from 1975 that rings true almost every year (excluding the North Hall "Freight Train of Pain" squad led by Bert Harrison in 2006 in AAA) whatever class Westminster competes in "Same Old Story, Same Old Song and Dance" from the 'Get Your Wings' album. Westminster is the bomb, great facilties, great coaching, good athletes with 1 goal every year, win State. This is not their best squad ever, but still, too deep, too strong for the field. Jordan Flowers led them to an ez region 6-AA victory but any of the top 3 could be the lead Cat this Saturday. Lovett came in 2nd at 6-AA after being ranked #3 in October and seems to be the top canidate for the runnerup spot on the Podium led by the efforts of Hugh Van Heesewijk and John Hale. Blessed Trinity was ranked most of the season at #2 and maybe they had a hiccup at Region, but we will all find out this Saturday as they barely edged out GAC at region by 1 point.
Speaking of, Greater Atlanta Christian has been one bird that has been hard to gauge this season. In my opinion, they came out of nowhere to qualify for State almost dispatching Blessed Trinity for 3rd place. Coach Kinser did an excellent job obviously of getting his guys to peak late. Chris Woodard has been solid this Fall and clocked a 17:12 at Region. Ok, lets not dismiss the 8-AA squads as most of these teams have ran on slower courses and the Region meet was off the chain. North Oconee, after losing collegiate runners including 1600 Meter state Champ Tripp Hurt and Ian Wraga, just re-loaded adding MS State Champ Cole Thornton as he clocked a 17:20 leading the Titans to another region title. Hart County has exploded onto the AA scene pacing 2nd at Region with a 18:10 team average led by front runner Ross Morris in 17:17. Dawson County has been a bit of a puzzle also qualifying 3rd out of region led by senior Tyler Thurmond. The Jefferson Dragons could breathe fire this Saturday and surpass Dawson led by Kyle Kashuba and Trae Timmerman.
Again. what teams may crack the top 10 that are not from the power regions of 6-AA and 8-AA? My money goes to Bleckley County, River Ridge and Thomasville (per MileSplit region results)
Boys AA Individual
This is truly confounding as I see no clear favorite to win this race for as long as I have been ranking AA (4 years) This class has produced many great runners including 2 time champ Leonel Ayala of Cross Keys, the flamboyant and egocentric Ian Edwards of Jordan and Chris Jones of Union County...
So where can one start? The stats are out the window as Lovett ran at Westover, Westminster ran at McAlpine (Wendy's Invite) and Blessed Trinity ran at Asics (another flat track) This may be a race that 10 guys are within a few meters of each other at the 2 Mile mark....Justin Whitman of Oglethorpe County may have an advantage, as he must have ran a few hills back in Montana. Christopher Akins of Model had a strong run at the Darlington Cross Country Festival recording a 16:20. Issac Pacheco of North Murray HS scorched the Ridge Ferry course in 16:20. Ross Morris of Hart County heated up the cold windy conditions at Bob Roller in 16:45. And throw in all the 6-AA leaders in Jordan Flowers, Sean Smith and Jake Candler of Westminster, Hugh Van Heesewijk, John Hale and Thomas Padgett of Lovett, Andrew Nicholson and Will Murray of Blessed Trinity alomg with Chris Woodard of GAC. From way down South, let's not dismiss Grif Rutherford of Thomasville who has a penchat for rising to the challenge in big races and Fitzgerald's Pedro Martinez.
Class AA Preview