7A Boys Team Preview
7A this season has turned into, on paper, pretty cut and dry. Brookwood is the clear #1. Marietta, Lambert, and Milton will clean up the podium in some order, and Mill Creek, Walton, and South Forsyth will claim 5-7, again in some order.
What is it that Red said in Shawshank Redemption? Ah yes - "These walls are kind of funny. First you hate 'em, then you get used to 'em. Enough time passes, it gets so you depend on 'em."
Remove the word "walls" and replace it with "hills". That's Carrollton - the prison yard in the form of the State Championships.
Those hills are kind of funny. How many times have we seen over the years where teams were ranked in the top 4 but failed to finish there? How many times have we seen teams ranked outside the top 4 find their way on the podium? A couple of recent examples include: Peachtree Ridge in 2015 (ranked 6th entering State - finished 3rd at State), Brookwood in 2014 (ranked 5th entering State - finished 2nd at State). Obviously, Peachtree Ridge and Brookwood had to replace someone who was ranked. There are always teams that try to (and successfully do) play spoiler - those teams who 'depend on' the hills to ruin teams supposedly better than they are
Previews tell us things we already (should) know, but they put them in a more organized format. Today, I'll preview each team ranked in the top 10. I'll showcase their strengths and weaknesses and give reasons for why said team should finish on the podium / how they may not finish on the podium, along with a general outlook. The ordering of teams are based on the most recent 7A rankings, and I will also use those as a guide.
Post Region Team Rankings:
5. Mill Creek
7. South Forsyth
8. Collins Hill
Outside Looking In: Woodstock, Kennesaw Mountain, Peachtree Ridge, Grayson, Archer, West Forsyth
Strengths: Brookwood entered the season as a favorite, and they've continued rolling. They've been ranked #1 in 7A for the whole season and have begun separating themselves from the field thanks mostly to their strong top 3 in Patrick Smith, Zunair Manzoor, and Jordan Bullock. Manzoor opened the season strong with a top 5 finish out in Memphis and then followed it up with a Gwinnett County championship. He's not quite been able to maintain that momentum down the stretch, but the emergence of Patrick Smith has lightened the Bronco burden. Smith finished 6th at Coach Wood and followed it up with a victory at Area. Throw in the return of Gruem Tesfamariam to prominence and Thomas Ridley's rapidly improving campaign, and you have yourself the favorite for the 7A championship. Daniel Mativo will also be racing on the varsity squad for Brookwood after missing some invitationals. Brookwood has the highest upside and hasn't lost to a 7A squad all year.
Weaknesses: The one thing Brookwood doesn't have is depth at the top. There's a huge hole after their scoring 5, and if any of their 3 has a bad day, another team could jump in and play spoiler.
Outlook: The numbers don't lie. Brookwood is the favorite on paper, and they should come away with the championship on Friday. There's just too much strength, they're too well-coached, and they'll be well-prepared to take back what Marietta has had the past two years - the State Title.
Marietta: The defending state champions entered the season with some question marks concerning their ability to repeat as champions. After not being highly considered for a trophy contender, transfer Colton Page and 'next big thing' Ben Gordon have all of a sudden given this Blue Devil squad hopes that they won't only podium, but also be the #1 contender to down the Broncos.
Strengths: They have the strongest top 2 in the field in Hayden Tullos and Ben Patterson. Tullos and Patterson, both will be favorites in the individual race and are joined by Colton Page who has continually worked on closing the gap on their top 2. Ben Gordon's season has taken off; after a great race at Coach Wood, Gordon took 9th at Area in 16:43. This gives them a really strong top 3, a formidable 4, and a rapidly improving 5th man in Michael Bresnock (17:07). Their biggest strengths, of course, lie in that 1-2-3 punch at the top.
Weaknesses: There's still the huge gap. 1:50 at Area and a 2:00+ gap at Great American shows that this team may just have too many holes to get it done. They'll do tons of damage up top with two runners likely in the top 5 and another fighting for the top 10, but unless Gordon and Bresnock continue their rapid improvements, they likely won't have the firepower to take out Brookwood.
Outlook: They're an easy podium pick assuming their 4-5 are on. I'd call them a safe podium pick for anyone playing "fantasy cross country" (thanks Coach Tigue).
Lambert: Speaking of Tigue, his Longhorns have put together an impressive season. Employing a race-often tactic, Lambert has consistently been a top 4 team this year and has gained valuable experience (as the vast majority of their top 7 are non-seniors). They've had a couple hiccups along the way including an injury to Tyler Fox which seems to be better, but otherwise they've put together a great season. There's really no reason to think they won't be in the top 4 come Friday.
Strengths: Lambert has a solid top 6 in which the order seems to change every race. I think they've had three different top guys this season. Fox and Lee Keil broke 16:00 at Area, and Byron Grogan, who has been their top guy this season, was just over. Brandon Burt, Tanner Baker, and Michael Tardella round out this solid crew of guys.
Weaknesses: For as solid as this crew looks, there are two weaknesses that could affect them: Lack of a true stud and lack of depth. Fox and Keil are stud juniors, but they're a year away from being the real 'ace in the hole' that Lambert may need should any of their top 5 falter at State. They don't have a ton of depth, so if someone has an off day, it could spell trouble for Lambert. They've also raced a lot this year, and on a strength course like Carrollton, is it possible they're not at 100%?
Outlook: Lambert has been an up and coming team ever since Tigue took over, and there's no reason to believe they'll be off the podium. They're talented enough and coached well enough to finish in the top 4 even if someone in their crew isn't completely 'on'.
Milton: Similar to Lambert, Milton has a team full of athletes who aren't seniors, as their entire top 3 doesn't graduate until next year. Sam Bowers has had one heck of a season which has included 4 victories, most recently at Area. Michael Malkowski has emerged as a strong 2nd runner for them and would be a top guy on many other squads. Ryan Beitzell has improved a lot, and their senior duo of Stettner and McCarthy rounded up their 2nd place Area team.
Strengths: They have a favorite to win the title in Bowers and another who should be a strong top 10 threat in Malkowski. Their top 2 are good enough to where as long as they're 'on', they'll stack enough points up top and will only need their 3-5 to have solid days. The numbers don't lie; Milton is good enough to contend for the win if this team is on.
Weaknesses: It's not usually a good thing to enter State on a loss, and Milton lost to Lambert by a solid 15 points at Area. They've got significant gaps after their top 3, so they lack depth up top. If Bowers or Malkowski has a rough day, it could turn into a rough day for Milton.
Outlook: On paper, Milton is, at worst, the 4th team on the podium on Friday. Another advantage I believe they have is their great variation of courses they've run this year. Their county course is just mean, and they also ran Double Dip - both featuring big climbs. This should give them the experience necessary to perform well on Friday.
Mill Creek: Mill Creek has had themselves a truly solid season. They graduated a lot of talent last year and looked to be heading into a 'down year'. The emergence of Steven Velazquez, Delaney Moore, and Eric O'Hara has helped the Hawks become a podium contender. The numbers (and season) suggest they're a step behind, but this is State, and they've got one of the best in the business at the helm in Andy Christie.
Strengths: Depth. Mill Creek, similar to Lambert, has had a different order of their top 5 at almost every race this year. They've got 6, maybe even 7, guys who could all score for them and perform "bigly" at state. This is a luxury that many teams don't have.
Weaknesses: Lack of a true top guy. Velazquez has had himself a great season, but he hasn't finished any higher than 9th in any race this season. He likely maxes out around 18th-20th at State, and there are teams in this race that could put two or possibly three runners in front of their 1. That will be tough to overcome.
Outlook: Mill Creek has the runners to get it done if someone above them falters. They'll need some help, but it's by no means impossible that they leave Carrollton with some hardware.
Walton: Gower's crew has had a pretty interesting season. They looked a little rough early on, then they had an amazing race at Great American where they outperformed Mill Creek (albeit in a different race), and then they came back down a little at Coach Wood. They have a strong top 2 in Andrew Singh and Ben Dahlgren who have led the charge all year. Their 3-5 all finished in the top 30 (one of only 2 teams to do so) at their Area, so there's some depth there.
Strengths: Their top 2, especially Singh, have a strong chance at top 10 at State, so having the low scorer in the front is a big advantage. Even if Dahlgren is closer to 15th, that's still 2 in the top 15. As with others, if their other scorers are on, it'll be tough for other teams to keep up.
Weaknesses: Their 4-5 at Coach Wood were back in 77th and 79th place in 17:33, and Singh was their top guy in 16:18 and 7th. That's a big gap that may be too much for Walton to overcome if the trend repeats itself in Carrollton. There's too much talent for them to contend for a top 4 spot with that much space.
Outlook: Walton is a team who can contend if they put all the pieces together, but they'll need some help from 2 teams ahead of them to leave with a trophy.
South Forsyth: South's team took 4th place in Area behind Walton. They defeated Walton at Coach Wood however and averaged 17:00 in the process. They've hovered in the 5th - 8th place range in the rankings all season. Matt Patterson has led this crew this season and had his best race of the season at Coach Wood where he took 13th. Fellow senior Jake Morgan has run well for SF as has Matt's freshman brother Michael Patterson. They're a solid team who has performed solidly all season.
Strengths: SF has a decent team with a good leader in Matt Patterson. They've mostly performed consistently this season, which is so important heading into the State Championships. I'm sure the loss to Walton at Area wasn't the best feeling, but they were close enough to where they have the chance to bounce back.
Weaknesses: After Patterson and Morgan, the gaps may just be too big. Patterson lost to Lambert's top 3 guys at Area, and for SF to be a podium contender, they'll need to have big days from all of their athletes.
Outlook: They're every bit as competitive as Walton and Mill Creek (only 17 points back of MC at Coach Wood), so if they can throw it all together at State, they'll give themselves a chance; they just need someone to falter.
Collins Hill: Hudson's crew was pegged as a podium contender in the pre-season rankings following a really strong track season. It's just not quite panned out for the Eagles this season, as the campaign has been blemished with some inconsistency. Even so, Collins Hill had a solid finish to their pre-State season taking 3rd at Area and only averaged 3 seconds slower than Mill Creek. Merrick Rizzo has really begun to break loose, taking 3rd at Area in the best race of his career. Their 4-5 were a little too far back of Rizzo and juniors Kai Brickey and Anthony Urmetz though, so that gap needs to close for the Eagles to have a shot at some hardware.
Strengths: Coaching and a good top 3. CH's Andrew Hudson is one of the best in the state, and anyone who's been around Georgia for a while knows how strong some of his teams have been. These guys are well coached and seem to be peaking at the right time. Rizzo just thrust himself into the conversation for top 10, and the duo of Brickey and Urmetz could contend for top 25-30 at State giving them a solid 1-3 punch.
Weaknesses: It remains to be seen if their 4-5 are good enough. They've got several seniors on this team including their 4-5 from Area, so if they can motivate themselves to end their careers on a high note, it's possible they could pull something off. With that said, it just doesn't seem like they have quite the firepower to get it done.
Outlook: Collins Hill has been a step back of Mill Creek most of the season but has pushed them pretty closely twice. The unfortunate part is MC is used as the marker for 'best team not in the top 4', so they not only have to jump Walton and SF - they also have to jump MC and hope for a fade of a top-4 team. It looks like it's just asking too much.
Parkview: The #9 Panthers head into State with top runner Christian Corsello at the helm. Similar to Collins Hill, Parkview was pegged as a podium contender in the pre-season but just hasn't had the season to back it up. Corsello took 2nd to Brookwood's Patrick Smith at Area and took 8th at Coach Wood showcasing that he has top 5-10 potential at State. David Michael was only 10 seconds behind Corsello at Great American but hasn't been close since. They've had to rely on two sophomores in their top 5 for help, and it may just be too early for them to truly succeed on the big stage.
Strengths: Corsello is a true top runner who should put Parkview on the board early with a top 5-10 finish, and Michael is top 20-25 capable. After that though, they'll need a lot of help from their 3-5. Causey took 25th at Area and finished close to the Mill Creek pack, and Henok Hailu and Bryce Thomas have shown bright glimpses, but it's asking a lot to have all 5 on at the same time.
Weaknesses: Lack of depth. Parkview has been plagued by depth issues all season, and they'll need a ton of help from teams above them to make a top-4 run. The only team they've beaten who is ranked ahead of them is Collins Hill, and CH got the last laugh at Area. They return 3 of their top 5 for next year, but for now, it may just be too early for this squad to make some noise.
Hillgrove: What an up-and-down season for this Hillgrove squad. They took a disappointing 19th place at Coach Wood, making it look like their championship race berth was almost a fluke. They then follow it up with a great race at Area 2, taking 2nd place and beating previously ranked Kennesaw Mountain. Sophomore Chase Korzenok leads this troop after a ridiculous improvement from last XC season (18:08 as a freshman to 16:20 this season). The duo of Udochi Okoro and Cameron Bensley were within 30 seconds of Korzenok at Area, and then their 4-5 were in the low 17s. This team, while up and down, proved that they can move up through the ranks at State if everyone is on.
Strengths: Their 1-5 gap was under a minute at Area which is always a good thing. There aren't a ton of teams on this list who can say that, and while it's difficult to replicate that on a harder course like Carrollton, it should give this team confidence that they can keep it close at Carrollton.
Weaknesses: As much as Korzenok has improved, he was still a full minute+ behind individual champion threat Hayden Tullos and 13 seconds outside of the top 5. Korzenok is a top 25-30 threat, but that won't be enough for podium consideration unless he way outperforms that and the rest of their team does the same with their projections.
Outlook: It's a program on the rise, but it's looking like it'll be too soon for this team to make some noise at Carrollton. For them, moving up this list and chasing a top 6-8 finish would be a great end to their season.
Individual Threats - 7A Boys
As has been the case the last few years, the biggest classification in Georgia will have a big battle on their hands for the top mark. The first 4 athletes are who I perceive as the true favorites for the title, and I'll follow with 6 other athletes who I believe are capable of winning should these 4 athletes falter but should absolutely be considered the favorites for rounding out the top 10.
Hayden Tullos: Tullos of Marietta has had a man's season this year. He's had every race under 16:00 and thoroughly dominated his Area championships; only teammate Ben Patterson got close. Perhaps his most impressive race was his 13th place finish at Great American, finishing as top Georgian by a lot. He did get nudged by Sam Bowers at Coach Wood after doing most of the work, so he's not invulnerable. I do think he's the class of the field though and will end his season as 7A State Champion. It also needs to be noted that he was runner-up last year, only losing to his teammate Carlos Torres - meaning he's already beaten every single top runner in this field on this same course.
Sam Bowers: If there's anyone in this race who can take out Tullos, it's Sam Bowers of Milton. Like Tullos, Bowers dominated his Area meet. He's also finished no lower than 2nd place in any race he's done this year. Many coaches, fans, and athletes will peg him as the favorite, and I can't blame them - he's a good pick. He kept it close to Chase Kennedy at Wingfoot and nearly broke 9:20 at State in track last season. He took 8th last year at State, so he's no stranger to the top 10.
(photo by Daniel McCauley)
Dax Willette: What an enigma this athlete is! He shows up as a freshman and takes 4th overall at Foot Locker South in the freshman race with a 16:14 but fades to 194th as a sophomore in the Seeded race. He finished 37th at State as a freshman, 30th as a sophomore, but then 56th as a junior. He only broke 10:00 once in track last season. People forget about him, and then he comes into this season and drops a sub-15:00 and finishes no lower than 2nd in any meet he races. This kid is legit, and it looks like he just needed some new guidance to figure it all out. He went 15:43 at Area, and this was the same course (and he ran 10-15 second faster) as Patrick Smith and Christian Corsello battled on for 1-2 earlier in the day. Willette loves a fast-paced race, and he may be at the point in his career where he can gas the field early at State and stick it.
Ben Patterson: Patterson started out his season red-hot with a win down at the Saucony Kickoff. He also took 4th at Wingfoot and took top 20 at Great American in 15:31, his PR. While he's finished behind teammate Tullos consistently this year, he still needs to be considered as a favorite. He's one of a small number of athletes in the field who is capable of running 'fast' enough at Carrollton to win. It's a strength course, of 'course', but two sub 15:40 5Ks takes some strength, too.
Chase Condra: The stud sophomore has run under 16:00 every race but one (Area) this season. He also was in the top 3 in his first 3 5Ks and buried the competition at Berry. Since then, though, he's come back to Earth a little. He lost to Zunair Manzoor at County, faded a little at Wingfoot to finish 7th, and then got beaten handily at Area by Patrick Smith and Christian Corsello, two runners he beat with relative ease earlier in the season. He's a wild card and crazy-talented (9:22 as a freshman in track), but he needs to pick it back up at State and return to his early-season dominance if he wants a chance at the W.
Zunair Manzoor: Zunair's season has taken a similar turn to Condra's. He opened up with a great runner-up finish at Brooks Memphis Twilight and followed it up with a W at Gwinnett County to lead Brookwood to the team title. Since then, he's been playing second fiddle to teammate Patrick Smith and couldn't keep it close at Area. The talent is obviously there though, and Coach Dehnke is one of the very best in the southeast. This proud program has also surprisingly never had an individual XC state champion, so you have to figure Zunair's got that in his mind. Either way, Zunair is a great story. The kid didn't even break 20:00 as a freshman and is now considered a contender to WIN State? That's awesome.
Patrick Smith: What a second half of the season this athlete has had! After finishing last in the 3200m at State Track last year, Patrick has bullied his way through the field this XC season. After a top 10 finish at Brooks Memphis Twilight and a top 5 finish at County, Patrick broke 16:00 for the first time and then was crowned Area champion. He's been Brookwood's top runner since Great American and hasn't looked back. This runner is progressing just like he needs to be, and he's someone that the rest of 7A better take seriously this Friday.
Christian Corsello: The junior from Parkview took 3rd at Berry, 8th at Coach Wood, and 2nd at Area to put together a fine season. He's been (almost literally) in the shadow of Patrick Smith three times this year, finishing within 5 seconds of him on three separate occasions. Corsello's season is rounding into form nicely, and he's been Parkview's top dog the whole way. He's a wildcard for Friday. It should be noted that, just like Brookwood, Parkview has never had an individual cross country champion.
Michael Malkowski: Milton's consistent #2 runner has had a strong junior season, and while he's been in the shadow of teammate Sam Bowers, he's another runner to be considered a wildcard for Friday and an absolute top 10 threat. Malkowski broke 16:00 for the first time in his career at Area and finished just behind Smith and Corsello at Coach Wood, so he's shown that he can keep it close to some of the best runners in GA. A 13th place finish at Wingfoot was also impressive. Like Smith and Corsello, this athlete is rounding into form at the right time, and while he shouldn't 'seriously' contend for the win, he's someone to keep an eye on.
Andrew Singh: Andrew Singh's senior campaign has been a little up and down, but he's still had a good season. He took 4th at Cobb County and broke 16:00 for the first time at Area, taking 6th. Perhaps his most impressive race was Coach Wood where he finished in between Smith and Corsello, showing that he can run with this tier of athlete. Like the rest of the athletes outside the top 4, Singh probably won't win, but you should still see him in the business as the race winds down.
***Other top 10 considerations: Jordan Bullock, Ben Dahlgren, Byron Grogan, Lee Keil, Tyler Fox, Matt Patterson, Colton Page, Kaleb Wolfenden
Marietta High School
Milton High School
Marietta High School
Milton High School
Walton High School
Walton High School
Parkview High School
Lowndes High School
Marietta High School
South Forsyth High School
Milton High School
Woodstock High School