Brookwood heads into the State meet as the clear favorite, and looks poised to take its 3rd straight title and 11th overall. Coach Dehnke’s squad looks a tad better than the one that took first last year with a 16:26 average, and they arguably are within shouting distance of their 2009 team that averaged 15:51. If the course runs quick and the wind stays down, don’t be surprised to see the Broncos averaging in the very low 16:00s (or faster).
When clicking on all cylinders, Walton has seemed like a clear #2 team most of the year. They were pushed to the limit at Region 5AAAAA by Marietta, but might not have had their strongest day. They have their front-runner in Brian Sullivan, plus a pack of solid guys who would love to replicate the “perfect storm” that their girls brought to Carrollton last year.
Mill Creek had a nice win over Region foes Norcross and Peachtree Ridge last Saturday. Their One-Two punch of Eric Westog and Mitch Flammang, plus a solid line-up backing them up, puts them squarely in the hunt for a top-2 finish. Coach Christie’s Hawks are looking for their first trip ever to the podium, and have a group of seniors looking to add an exclamation point to an already outstanding season.
Milton might be the team to interrupt the Cobb/Gwinnett party…an early season 5th at Berry showed they matched up pretty closely with Mill Creek, although they’ve not lined up with most of their powerhouse AAAAA counterparts since then. Outside of Brookwood, they may have had the best Region performance and should be considered a serious contender for the #2 spot. Their ability to spread :24 at their 1-5 spots should serve them well at Carrollton.
Inserting themselves nicely into the Gwinnett elite this year, Norcross came agonizingly close to grabbing a Region title last Saturday at River Green. They’ve been very solid at their 1-3 spots all year with junior Armann Rehmann leading the way, but will need some big efforts from their 4-7 guys on Saturday to contend for the #2 spot.
Marietta really improved heading into late October, and seemed to have their best meet of the season so far against Walton at Region 5AAAAA. They’ve run most of their season not quite at full-strength, but Cole Robertson’s recent return to form means they have to be mentioned in any debate about who will be on the podium on Saturday.
Showing up big at Region, Collins Hill has made a strong late-October charge lead by Justin Phillip and Jonathan Moses. They seem to have Mo on their side, and will enjoy the benefit of arriving at Carrollton off of most folk’s radar.
If there’s a team flying REALLY under the radar, it’s Peachtree Ridge. A 4th at Region shouldn’t keep them out of the discussion for a high podium spot, and with Brickell up front it means they’re effectively scoring 4 guys. At Gwinnett County they averaged 16:31 on the River Green course, right there with what Mill Creek (16:34) and Norcross (16:35) ran at on the same course at Region this past Saturday.
The teams above would seem to be the Elite Eight, and the likely candidates for an invitation “inside the fences” at the awards ceremony. While Brookwood in any place other than first would arguably be an upset, seeing any of the other 7 teams in the #2 spot would not be a shocker. For any of those teams off their games though, spoilers-in-waiting include Harrison and Kennesaw Mountain, both of whom have had outstanding seasons.
Josh Brickell of Peachtree Ridge is undefeated this year in full-throttle efforts. The junior has shown a knack for showing up big when it counts, so it could be that it’s just him versus the course on Saturday. Don’t be surprised if he’s south of 15:30, which would put him in rare air on the all-time list.
Morgan Malanoski of Brookwood has run consistently well all season and would seem to be the on-paper favorite for 2nd. Walton’s Brian Sullivan has posted a solid season and should push up front, while sophomore Eric Westog of Mill Creek is also a candidate for a very high spot. Brookwood’s Kevin Marsh, Matthew McClintock, and Gabe Gomez are also likely in the running for individual podium spots….Woodstock’s JC Cornett and Nathan Reich of Milton will also be in the hardware hunt.
Walton returns as defending champions….their win in 2010 surprised some, and they slid in a little under the radar in grabbing the title from some perennial Gwinnett favorites. Early in the 2011 season, it looked like they might not have the firepower to repeat, especially with Harrison and Brookwood posting such strong early season results. But in late October it seemed they were finally able to pull their A-Team line-up together, and their Region performance last Saturday showed that they’re clearly not quite ready to give up the championship trophy.
At the end of last season, one knew that Harrison was going to challenge for the top spot in 2011, and they have lived up to expectations all year. Kaylee Isaacs has led their pack, yet they’ve also shown remarkable depth. They cruised to a 19:34 average at Region after a strong 20:20 at Last Chance. Coach Scott’s Lady Hoyas would love to make sure the top spot trophy stays in Cobb County, albeit in a different trophy case.
While it might seem the axis of power has shifted from northeast of Atlanta to the northwest this year, Brookwood had fielded quite a team of their own, and could easily look right at home on the top of the podium Saturday. Caroline Kissel and Quandra Shanks form a nice 1-2 combo up front, while – like their Cobb County contemporaries – a deep line-up puts them squarely in the hunt for a title.
Milton may be the Rodney Dangerfield of this year’s state meet….they’ve run exceptionally well approaching November but don’t seem to get mentioned in the same conversations as the Big Three. One suspects they’ll be looking to change that on Saturday, with Annie Kelly challenging for a top spot and a very talented supporting cast backing her up. They averaged 20:04 Saturday on a Region course that seemed to run like Carrollton time-wise….right there with the 20:01-20:05 averages of the top 4 teams from last year’s state meet.
Parkview has staged a nice late-season rally, with a 4th at Coach Wood highlighting their resume. Woodstock has had an exceptional season and was just a step behind Parkview in Gainesville. Peachtree Ridge ran strong early in the season, then seemed to fall back a bit, but rebounded nicely with a Region win over a very good Collins Hill squad.
Roswell and North Gwinnett will also likely challenge for top 10 spots. Lassiter has stayed a bit out of the spot-light this year but fields a very good team and should be up there as well.
Collins Hill has claimed the top individual spot on the podium for a remarkable 7 straight years: Jackie Drouin in 2004-06, Amanda Winslow in 2007-08, Nicky Akande in 2009 and Chloe Whitworth in 2010. Whitworth is back to defend her title and try to extend that streak to 8. She won over a strong field at Coach Wood and appeared to put things on cruise control at Region…she has to be considered the favorite.
But it won’t be easy….Lassiter’s Marcy Merriman has had an outstanding season despite seeming a little off stride at Region. Others likely contending for top 10 spots include Brookwood’s Caroline Kissell, Kaylee Isaacs of Harrison, Annie Kelly of Milton, Katherine Yost of Norcross, Roswell’s Peyton Thomas, Alexa Womack of Walton, Paige Rankine of Luella, Peachtree Ridge’s Lauren Kelly and Lassiter’s Morgan Ainslie.