Coach Roy Benson
The Coach Benson Double Dip Invitational is named in honor of the legendary coach, Roy Benson. He coached at the University of Florida from 1969 to 1979 as the head cross country coach for seven years and head track and field coach for three years. Coach Benson was a senior contributor to Running Times magazine for 25 years, and founded and directed the Smoky Mountain Running Camp for 40 years. From 1993 to 2008, Coach Benson served as a community coach at Marist, where his girls and boys teams won sixteen state championships in cross country, and individual runners won a total of twenty state titles in cross country and track. He is now semi-retired on Amelia Island, Florida, where he serves as volunteer head cross country coach at Fernandina Beach High School. Coach Benson will be in attendance this weekend.
A complete course preview can be seen here:
Girls Team Race
Coach Eric Heintz of Marist might just have the deepest team in the state this year and that's saying something. With 9 girls under 20:30 at Blastow, finding a spot in the top 7 is an outstanding accomplishment for a girl on this team. Led by junior, Morgan Ilse, the War Eagles boasted the top 4 finishers in their first race, including junior, Caitie Faust, and two freshmen, Anna Renou and Kendall Nelson. Kellie Kratzenberg, Myriam Shehata, and Ann Marie Ilse round out the top 7 this week.
Perennial powerhouse, Walton, eclipsed the field this past weekend at the UGA Invitational under very tough conditions. Junior, Avery Bussjager, proved herself to be a force on the track in the spring, and continued to show it with an easy win at UGA. Emily Bridges has been a part of two state championships at Walton, and the Sanders' sisters, Katie and Christie, are excellent runners. Look for Madie Paulk, Caitlyn McSwigan, and Vivian Bridges to run well.
Dunwoody finished third in the big race at Berry, and could contend for the win at Double Dip. Senior, Alex Cameron, is one of the best in the state, and Ann-Marie Sills finished right behind her at the Clara Bowl. Ansley Heavern, Ellie Conoley, and Jennifer Hardister complete a solid top 5.
Woodstock finished just behind Dunwoody at Berry, and is considered a contender for a podium spot in Carrollton. They have two frontrunners in Alexandra Melehan and Morgan O'Toole. The Wolverines will have an impact on the outcome of the team race at Double Dip.
Girls' Individual Race
Alex Cameron and Morgan Ilse each won three individual state titles last year in cross country and track. They've run head to head on twelve occasions during their high school careers, each winning six times. They are arguably two of the top three runners in the state. Saturday will be an epic battle. If they falter, look for Avery Bussjager to pick up the pieces. She is a favorite to win the 6A crown. Alexandra Melehan (Woodstock) beat Cameron this past Saturday and may look to do the same this weekend. We haven't seen Katie Sanders (Walton) or Tyra Holloway (North Cobb) yet this season, but they have to be considered contenders based on past performance.
Boys' Team Race
Woodward Academy is showing early signs of greatness, edging Marist by a point at the Bob Blastow Early Bird, and putting seven runners ahead of Marist's #5. Drew Sands is one of the top runners in the state, but the strength of this team comes from its pack, including River Holifield, Frank Crippen-Ginsburg, Alex Murfee, and Ben Murray. Warren Sams and Collin Silliman round out the group. Can they take down Marist two races in a row?
Host school, Marist, has the best one-two punch in the state in longtime friends Michael Thurston and Daniel Navarro. Sophomore, Frank Pittman, and senior, Jim Galvin, may be amongst the best #3s and #4s in the state. But, for the War Eagles to challenge Woodward someone will have to step up in the #5 spot. Joe Monoghan ran well at Blastow, but will have to close the gap to the rest of his teammates. Grant Haushalter and Brian Faust round out the top 7.
Don't let the results of NEGA fool you, Coach Jimmy Sorrells always has his team running its best late in the season, and Flowery Branch is the clear favorite to win the 5A title in Carrollton. Nicholas Ashmead is a very strong runner, and James Slavik was ahead of him at the first race this season. If we see Taylor Fiorello at Double Dip, look for the Falcons to try for the upset. Jake Shewbert, Miguel Martinez, and Brian Young complete the pack.
Walton is poised to make run at the podium this year in 6A. Kenan Farmer cruised to a victory at the UGA Invite this past weekend. Connor Kilch and Andrew Singh also ran well, and Miles Greer broke 18 minutes on a very tough UGA course. Look for the Raiders to make some noise this weekend, especially if we see Daniel Yu on the start line.
Boys' Individual Race
In case you haven't heard, Michael Thurston is back. After a tough junior track season, the 4A XC champ looked great at Blastow, cruising to a victory in 15:36. His teammate, Daniel Navarro, won two titles on the track in the spring, and is every bit as dangerous as Thurston in any race. 6A 3200m champion, Kenan Farmer, was the fastest of the bunch on the track last spring, and dominated the field at UGA. Drew Sands has speed, and wasn't far behind Navarro at Early Bird. Look for statement races this weekend from Woodstock's Owen Bailey, and Nicholas Ashmead of Flowery Branch.