Marietta: Need we say more? The team to beat is absolutely the Blue Devils. They return 5 of their top 7 from last year’s championship team and 3 guys under 4:33 (Benson at 4:17/1:54) in the mile and 4 guys at sub 10:05 in the 3200m. They enter the season as a confident #1 led by Khayvon Benson, Ben Patterson, and Carlos Torres.
Mill Creek: Despite the loss of Jordan Ashwood to soccer, Mill Creek enters the season returning 4 guys sub 10:05 in the 3200m including Sam Costa who looks to be a threat for the individual crown. An improved Noah Hollis and Gavin Childers will help lead the charge as the Hawks look to have a successful 2015 campaign and close the gap on Marietta while distancing themselves from the numerous other suitors.
Milton: Milton returns several heavy hitters from their 4th place team last year. Included in Milton’s 4 sub 4:40 returners/4 sub 10:15 returners is Jack Bluth who will seek revenge after a disappointing end to last XC season. Matt McGorrey and Sam Bowers look to be strong at the 2-3 spot. Milton has plenty of depth on their roster to fill in the missing 2 spots to threaten all but Marietta for the podium.
Lambert: Lambert is only a surprise this high up the list if you’ve not been paying attention. Aside from their obvious ace in Jonathan Schwind (4:15/9:22), Lambert returns 5 of their top 7 from last year’s 9th place state team including Tyler Fox, Byron Grogan, and Christopher Sharp. Additionally, Lambert added two new faces in track season
Peachtree Ridge: Despite the loss of #1 Isaac Penman, The Ridge returns 5 of their top 7 from last year’s 7th place team. The Ridge had a solid track season placing 5 guys under 10:30 including 3 sub 10:10. They also have some depth with 7 milers under 4:50 and many more not far behind. Look for Peachtree Ridge to push the envelope a little as they chase a podium spot led by Nate Reichard.
Walton: Walton loses much of their 6th place team from last year, but a strong track season by their former role players puts them right back in the mix. Andrew Singh will be ready for the ‘big time’ as their #1. In addition, Walton returns 7 guys under 11:00 in the 3200m including 2 sub 10:00 and 3 others under 10:45. Walton is always a team to take seriously as a podium contender, and this year is no different.
Brookwood: Yes- a surprise this low on the list. On paper, this looks to be Coach Dehnke’s biggest challenge keeping Brookwood’s legendary podium streak alive. Jordan Bullock, Patrick Smith, Gruem Tesfamariam, and Dylan Vitovic look to lead the Bronco charge as they return 7 guys who averaged sub 18:00 in the 5K last season. Couple that with 7 guys under 11:00 and 10+ guys under 5:00, Brookwood certainly has depth. To the casual fan, Brookwood has more questions than answers… but anyone who has followed the Broncos historic program knows they’ll do whatever it takes to leave Carrollton with a trophy.
Etowah: After finishing within 20 points of their first state trophy last year, Etowah returns 4 from their state team last year. Led by Blake Beavers (4:32/9:59), Etowah may have lost a step with the loss of Michael Perona and other talent from 2014. Keeping that in mind, Etowah still put 2 under 10:10 and 2 more under 10:50 in the 3200m this track season and had 6 guys break 5:00 in the 1600m. Couple that with 3 guys averaging sub 17:30 and 2 more under 18:05 in the 5K last season, you’d be foolish to completely count them out.
Woodstock, to me, is the most intriguing and unpredictable team on this list. They didn’t qualify for state last year in their difficult region… that looks like it motivated them in track season. Woodstock returns 7 guys who broke 10:50 in the 3200m and 10+ who broke 5:00 in the 1600m. They do lack a true front runner though which will hurt on the big stage, but if a couple of their guys close the gap to the front, Woodstock could be a very dangerous team.
Despite losing some top talent from last year’s 11th place team, South Forsyth still managed to place 5 guys under 5:00 in track along with 3 guys sub 10:55 in the 3200. They’ll need some help from their role players though if they’re going to move up this list.
Watch list: Harrison, Pope, Northview, Lowndes, West Forsyth, Lakeside-Dekalb, North Cobb, Parkview, Mountain View, North Paulding. As usual, there are numerous teams that could find their way into the top 10 should other teams on this list falter. Watch out for these teams and more in the first weeks of the season.
Based on Returners Best Times from 2014: