photo by Daniel McCauley
1 - Northview
2 - South Forsyth
3 - Harrison
4 - West Forsyth
5 - Milton
6 - Mill Creek
7 - Brookwood
8 - North Gwinnett
9 - Etowah
10- North Paulding
Watch list: Parkview, Pope, Roswell, Peachtree Ridge, Alpharetta, Norcross, Lambert, Walton, Lakeside-Dekalb, Collins Hill
Northview: Just as Northview ended last season, Northview enters the 2015 XC season at #1. The Lady Titans return 6 of their top 7 including returning champion and 4:50/10:24 track sensation Lindsay Billings. Anna Barefield (5:11/11:07) and Sarika Temme-Bapat (5:23/11:36) finished in the top 12 in XC and will be a strong 2-3. It appears the Lady Titans thin out severely after #5, so if anyone falters, it could get dangerous for them. With all of that said, they’re the pre-season #1 and the team to beat.
South Forsyth: Led by the top 10 XC duo of Savannah Carnahan (4:59/10:41) and Kaylee DuPont (5:01/2:17), South Forsyth enters the season at #2 after finishing #2 at State last year. The biggest knock against the Lady War Eagles is that there appears to be a severe drop after their top 4. For South Forsyth to contend with Northview and hold off teams like Harrison, they’ll need to find a consistent #5 runner; otherwise, Carnahan and DuPont will have no margin for error if they not only want to contend with Northview for the title but also hold other suitors off.
Harrison: Harrison’s 5th place team returns 6 of their 7 members led by Maddie Rountree (5:20/11:33), Kira Stanley (5:13/11:31) and Alex Lacy. The Harrison girls are a staple near the top of the rankings year in and year out, and this season looks to be no different. In addition to returning 2 girls under 11:35, Harrison has 6 girls under 5:50 and 5 girls with returning averages of 21:10 or faster from last season. Like South Forsyth though, there’s a hole at #5 that will need to be filled. They’re a well-coached team who will be in the mix.
West Forsyth: Liz Galarza (5:19/11:02) leads the charge following her 3rd place finish at state a year ago. West Forsyth’s 4th place finish last year headlined a strong season, and it appears they improved during track season. West returns 5 girls 5:46 or faster in the mile including 2 under 5:35. They also have 6 girls who’ve run 12:30 or faster in the 3200m. West seems to have more depth than SF and Harrison at #5, but they’ll need to close the gap on Galarza to catch up. West is an up-and-coming team
Milton: Riley Burr with her sub-5:00 1600m skillset headlines a very dangerous Milton crew heading into this XC season. They return 5 of their 7 runners at state (granted losing 2 of their scoring 5). Among those returners are 4 other girls at 5:40 or faster in the 1600m and 4 runners with 5K averages of sub-21:00 from last XC season. Like West Forsyth, there’s a big gap after their ace, but also like West, they could move far up the podium with an improved 1-5 spread. Andy Carr will undoubtedly have his girls in top form and will look to improve upon their 3rd place finish a year ago.
Mill Creek: Three Petits? Really? Camryn (5:17/11:19), Hannah (5:27/11:39) and Marisa (5:46) help lead the charge along with Sara Scales (10th in XC) and a much improved Lexi Froh (5:33/2:22) for the Lady Hawks of Mill Creek. They appear close to even with West Forsyth and Milton on paper which could lead to some hate from northern Gwinnett for being a pre-season #6 outside the podium. Like others on this list, Mill Creek doesn’t have a ton of depth after their scorers, but if their top 5 all do their jobs, it’s tough to argue against them being a true podium contender.
Brookwood: The Lady Broncos had a disappointing end to their 2014 XC campaign with a surprising 14th place finish. This team appears to have many questions. 3 of their varsity athletes from last XC season did not run track, and those who did run track made great improvements. Mackenzie Ellison (5:08/2:13) and Lauren Flynt (5:14/11:38) will lead Brookwood into the season with 4 other sub 5:50 1600m girls. The Lady Broncos seem to only be a half-step off podium consideration. Coach Chris Carter will work hard to bridge that small gap and return Brookwood to that level.
North Gwinnett: Another team on this list with 3 of their returning top 5 without track times, The Lady Bulldogs return pretty loaded following their 13th place finish a year ago. Aside from Sidney Sheppard, Laura Friedman, and Carly Anderson, North Gwinnett returns 5 girls under 5:50 from track season. They lack a true front runner though, so any damage they do on the big stage will rely on a tight 1-5 split; with that said, they do have some depth, and with a strong summer of running, who’s to say one of these Lady Bulldogs doesn’t emerge?
Etowah: Following a very disappointing 16th place finish at state last year, Etowah enters this season at #9 after emerging in track season. Led by Kyla Resnick (5:23/11:54) and Mackenzie Walsh (5:35/11:11), Etowah returns 4 total girls under 5:40 along with several others in the low 6:00s. Julia Turbyfield (21:03 XC 5K average) turned to the 300 hurdles this past track season but surely will re-join her teammates in their top 5 to help Etowah accomplish among the biggest one-year swings in recent memory.
North Paulding: Similar to Brookwood in that 3 of their varsity level athletes did not run track, North Paulding enters the season in the top 10. They will be led by rising freshman Alex Whiten who already has three official sub 20:00 5Ks to her name. Along with Whiten, the Lady Wolfpack returns 4 girls who broke 5:55 in the 1600m along with 6 total girls returning with sub 22:00 5K averages. This is an intriguing team who seems to have won the freshman lottery with Alex Whiten and two others