What a treat cross country fans will get on Saturday at Carrollton. We have quite the intriguing lineup for State this year with the top 2 teams for the girls pretty cut and dry. Everyone has been chasing Marietta, but there's one team thus far who has shown to be able to keep it close should Marietta falter. After that, the next 2 teams have a pretty sizeable gap on the rest of the field. With all of that said though, nothing is ever guaranteed at State which is why we run the race. The most exciting part about 7A Girls this year? It appears to be a rematch of last year's slug fest with all the same top 4 teams! I'll write up the top 10 girls teams based on the most recent rankings along with a host of individuals vying for the championship.
Can anybody stop the defending champion Lady Blue Devils? While they hold huge victories in a myriad of races this year, perhaps their most impressive was a 3rd place effort at the prestigious Race of Champions event at Great American where these ladies took 3rd overall against some of the best competition in the country. Led by individual stud Ellie Hall, the Lady Blue Devils are the favorites heading into Carrollton. They're well coached by "Black Jack" Coleman who has shown lately to prep his squads for the big stage. Even so, there's a team lurking in the background... a team who only lost to them by 12 points at Coach Wood...
The Lady War Eagles of South Forsyth have had themselves a fine season. A strong 3rd overall place showing at Coach Wood (and the aforementioned 12 point deficit to Marietta) shows that South Forsyth can take a swing and connect in the "12th round" of Carrollton. A favorite for the individual title, junior Madelynne Cadeau narrowly lost to Ellie Hall at Coach Wood but only by a second - a trend which shows that South Forsyth is a slight underdog here, but I'm sure that's not a gap they're afraid to try and close. They've clearly been a strong team down the stretch of this season, and while graduation hurt them a little last year (losing #1 runner Kaylee DuPont), they've bounced back strong and shut up anyone who thought they couldn't contend again this year. Watch for this to be a classic battle between two awesome squads on Saturday.
On paper, it does appear that Marietta and South Forsyth are fighting for the title of "bride" while the rest are bridesmaids, but if you think Walton will be content merely trying to catch the bouquet and settle for 3rd, you're wrong. Gower's squad packs a strong punch who only lost 1 runner to graduation from last year's 4th place team. Walton has had some strong finishes this year including a 7th overall finish at Wingfoot, a 4th place finish at Jesse Owens (and most notably, only 14 seconds behind South Forsyth), and a 2nd place effort at Area (behind SF again). Walton has shown that they can be in contention should either of the above two falter, but Carrollton is a great equalizer. There should be no doubt - the Lady Raiders will be ready to attack. Look for senior Abigail Robertson to lead the charge.
Another strong podium and potential title threat are the Lady Eagles of Milton. These ladies narrowly beat Walton by 4 at State last year to take 3rd place honors. While they were relatively senior heavy last year, Milton's youth have developed well this year and are right back in the thick of things in 2018. Most notably, they defeated Walton at Wingfoot earlier this year; then, they lost to Walton by 6 at Area. Top runner Nyah Hernandez is no stranger to the big stage, so look for her to try and lead Milton to an upset on the biggest stage.
On paper, it does appear that the rest of the 7A qualifiers will have a difficult time mixing themselves into the top 4 at State. There doesn't seem to be a ton of "merit" in going after 5th place though, so I have to believe a couple of these teams will try and star in their own "Upset Special". This begins with Hillgrove, currently ranked #5, who is coming off a nice 2nd place finish at their Area meet. They've certainly tried to prepare themselves for State-level competition after competing in the likes of Great American Race of Champions, Wingfoot, and Coach Wood (where they were the 3rd overall 7A program). It's possibly not going to be enough, but look out for Hillgrove on Saturday as they try to dethrone at least one team from last year's podium.
The Lady Hawks have been a difficult team to figure out this year. When they're full strength, they're a strong team (as evidenced by their Area championship a couple weeks ago), but they've run an interesting combination of runners this season. It's possible that an unfortunate mix of illness, injury, and bad luck has hit this team this year, but one thing is for certain: They can be dangerous when at 100%. This is no longer a Petit-led squad, and MC certainly doesn't have the heavy hitters up top, but they do have depth. Depth can and does play an important role in a team's finish at State, so look for the Lady Hawks to have one of the smallest 1-5 splits in the entire field; the question will just be where they finish as a result. These ladies want high team scores Saturday.
West Forsyth has put together a pretty solid season this year including a 3rd place finish at Double Dip and victory at the Pickens "No Seriously, She's Still A'Grinnin" Invitational. Interestingly, West Forsyth has largely avoided mainstream Georgia competition this season - perhaps in an attempt to fly under the radar. They did take 4th place at Area although were still a pretty big ways behind Walton and Milton. Coming into the meet at #7, a top 5 finish would be a strong day for these ladies with the small chance of playing Cinderella should somebody else falter.
The Lady Vikings gave Mill Creek a good run for their money at Area but fell a little short to take 2nd place overall. They do have a top 15 finish at Coach Wood to their name albeit a depleted MC squad was among the teams behind them. Lakeside has a strong duo in Emma Hanson and Abigail McHoul leading the charge but do seem to be plagued by depth issues which could prove to be tough to overcome at State. They've shown to be just as good (or close to) as any team not in the top 4 this season when they're on. A top 5-6 finish would be an awesome day for these young ladies who only lose one consistent scorer after this year.
Roswell has shown glimpses of being a truly talented bunch this year as evidenced by their 11th place finish at Coach Wood, easily defeating Lakeside and Mill Creek and pulling to within striking distance of Hillgrove. They didn't have their best Area meet as they took 5th and barely qualified in easily the most competitive Area in 7A. In spite of the near hiccup, Roswell has shown that, when on, they can contend for a top 5 finish at this meet.
Injuries have plagued North Gwinnett's Lady Bulldogs this season, but they've had two weeks to heal up. These ladies were 5th at State last year, and while they graduated 3 of those girls, plenty of talent returned. The reigning Gwinnett County champions dominated that field and at the time were even a podium contender. We're over a month later though, and North Gwinnett has slid back a little bit since. We just can't count them out though. If they can hit a big day at the right time, this squad has shown they have the talent and poise to stomp their way through the field.
Other teams to take notice of: Brookwood (4th at Area 4), Etowah (6th at Area 3), Archer (Area 1 Champion), and Norcross (5th at Area 4).
There are a host of ladies who could contend for champion honors this Saturday. We'll go through the favorites for the championship and then outline other top 10 threats.
She's the top returner from last year after taking 4th place to a trio of seniors. She's backed up her junior campaign with a huge season including victories at Cobb County and Area along with an 8th place finish in the Race of Champions division of Great American and a runner-up finish at Coach Wood. She knows what it's like to contend for the win on the big stage and has plenty of victories / top level finishes in her career. I believe she enters Saturday as the favorite, but a slew of girls will be vying to take her down.
Madelynne Cadeau (photo by Daniel McCauley)
The stud from South Forsyth will be looking for redemption following a disappointing race at State last year. She narrowly lost to Hall at Coach Wood by a second and has a victory at Double Dip to her name along with top 10 finishes at major invitationals like Jesse Owens and Wingfoot. Watch her as she tries to redeem herself and lead them to victory on Saturday.
Brynne Sumner (photo by Daniel McCauley)
Sumner hasn't lost a race since September where she was 6th at Wingfoot. She was victorious at her county championship and also disposed of Cadeau at Area just 2 weeks ago. This athlete showed she's a beast on the track last year with a nasty string of 1600s and 800s but hadn't shown it on the XC course since 2016; well, now she's back, and she's absolutely a favorite heading into Saturday's state championship.
The obvious "Queen of Gwinnett County", Hetherington has 4 victories this year (Kosh, North GA, Gwinnett County, and Area) along with strong finishes at Berry (2nd) and Coach Wood (7th). While she was 30+ seconds behind Hall and Cadeau at Coach Wood, Hetherington knows what it's like to win and contend at a championship meet. She was 13th last year at State with many of the ladies in front of her gone thanks to graduation. She's also used to hard starts and "gassing the field" in her victories, so she shouldn't be afraid of what should be a quick start on a hard course on Saturday.
Nyah Hernandez (photo by Daniel McCauley)
The transfer from Creekview has put together a season which features 3 victories (Bob Blastow, RAM, and that really Fishy Hills on Wheels race) along with a 4th place finish at her Area meet. She was 4th at 6A State last year, so she's quite familiar with what it takes to be a top contender at the State championships. Look for her to try and mix it up with some of the best on Saturday.
Hillgrove's Ace has a runner-up finish to Ellie Hall at Area recently along with strong top 25 finishes at Wingfoot and Great American Race of Champions. She was also the #5 7A runner at Coach Wood which shows that while she may not quite be at the level of those contending for the win, she's still a surefire top 10 and even top 5 threat at State
Ani Henderson (r)
June Mwaniki and Ani Henderson: This Lady Blue Devils duo has proven to be the best 2-3 punch in the field when they're both on which could be the difference maker in the team competition. Henderson, aside from a rough go at Great American, has been a consistent top individual in 2018 with 4 top 10 races to her credit while Mwaniki took 24th at Great American's Race of Champions and 3rd at Area to upstage her teammate. Both runners are easily talented enough to threaten the top 10, and if they're both able to achieve this, it goes a long way in Marietta securing the team championship.
The senior from Walton was 9th at State last year and has been a little up and down so far this year. Following 20th and 36th place finishes at Jesse Owens and Wingfoot respectively, Robertson had easily the best race of her season at Area as she took 3rd place and only lost to Madelynne Cadeau by 6 seconds. She could be getting hot at just the right time, and for somebody with top State experience like her, we have to take her seriously as an easy top 5 threat and possibly more at Carrollton.
The south GA native doesn't get near the press that her metro ATL runners receive, but that doesn't mean she's less deserving. Golden hasn't finished lower than 4th all season and easily ran away with the Area 1 championship. She's the type of runner who could easily fly under the radar on Saturday and upset a few unsuspecting individuals.
Taylor Cushman (photo by Daniel McCauley)
Cushman has 5 top 10 finishes to her name this year with the most recent being a 5th place finish at Area only a few seconds behind new teammate Hernandez. Cushman is a much improved runner from a year ago where she took 21st at State, so look for her to try and keep it close to Hernandez at State which could propel her into the top 10.
The senior rookie from Roswell has put together a season featuring 4 top 10 finishes and a top 20 finish at Coach Wood. We don't have any history to point to as far as how things can go from here, but it's not completely uncommon for a newcomer to stir the pot when the pressure is on. Watch out for Mackenzie as she can find herself with a top 10 finish.
Aleesa De Castro (photo by Daniel McCauley)
South Forsyth's De Castro took 14th at Coach Wood and 7th at Area to head into the State Championships on a high note. She'll definitely have to sneak by a couple who beat her at Area in order to find herself in the top 10, but it's certainly doable for a girl who's also trying to help her team win the team championship.
Makenna Colbert and Sydney Runyan (medalists)
Makenna Calbert and Sydney Runyan: The freshman sensation out of Etowah (Calbert) didn't have her greatest race at Area but still has a 14th finish at Wendy's on her resume' as well as a multitude of top 10 finishes. Runyan on the other hand took 8th at Area and was 2nd at Carrollton Ortho. As with most freshman, consistency can be an issue for Calbert, but she has for the most part been pretty lights out this year including a 5th place at Carrollton Ortho. For Runyan, she was 31st at State last year and has improved a lot since then. It's unlikely that both these young ladies make the top 10, but there's a strong chance that Etowah will have at least one featured.
Other athletes to consider: Emma O'Connor (South Forsyth), Hattie Rydinsky (Marietta), Abby Rindt (Milton), Sarah Sandreuter (Roswell), Madison Watts (Mountain View), and Reese Saddler (Brookwood)