Hayden Nicholason and Reid Latimer will run for South Forsyth MS
Favorite - Woodland has not seen defeat yet this year easily winning their meets this year including walk away victories over many large classification schools at the Rock and Big Peach. At the prestigious Wingfoot Classic, they were the top middle school team. The returning runner up finishers also sport the second fastest 3200/2 Mile time this year from the group at 12:15 (at Big Peach). If they are healthy, it looks like they are the lead horse.
Challengers - It is going to be sunny and in the upper 80s by the time the Large Schools kick off in Cochran and that will mean that there is room to have an upset. Evans and Liberty look best positioned to do it. Evans struggled out of the gate at Battle of Atlanta, but has rung up 3 straight victories since including the fastest team average this year at 12:10 at Greyhounds. Liberty has six races under their belt including 3 wins. They also have the most victories over large schools in this field and only once this year has a large school managed to best them.
Dark Horses - Buford, Riverwatch, Taylor Road, and Renfroe all have some victories under their belts this season and are looking to finish the season strong. Buford was competitive at the Mountain Invite, while Riverwatch is the only team to best Liberty this year. Taylor Road came off a strong showing at Marist and has won twice this year. Renfroe nipped Taylor Road by a point at Winder-Barrow. All could run their way into a podium finish.
Unknowns - Richmond Hill and Lovinggood are big uncertainties in the field. Richmond Hill has not seen any of these teams all year while Lovinggood is probably the favorite of the Cobb schools that break apart from their club teams to run this race. Either of them could make a big splash for some trophies.
Morgan Grace Sheffield will run as an Individual Saturday
Favorite - On paper, Dean Rusk should be considered the favorite. They have had 5 runners who have gone sub 13:30 and have looked strong pretty much all season. The only time a middle school team has beaten a full strength Dean Rusk was Pace at Warpath. That race featured the two fastest times in girls middle school cross country this year. If Dean Rusk is operating at max capacity, they look hard to beat.
Challengers - Taylor Road (Jr. Cougars) are quickly becoming a force in the state. The third year program has beaten most of the team in this field including a not full strength Dean Rusk at Covered Bridge. They also took down Pace at the most recent Marist meet. The large school powerhouse, Woodland, also looks like they have a formidable squad. The two time defending State Grand Champions only blemishes this year has been to Dean Rusk and Taylor Road. Both of these teams have won quite a few meets this season and will jump at any stumble by the favorite.
Dark Horses - Like the boys side, Richmond Hill has very little crossover to compare, but they have been successful in the few meets that they have run. Renfroe is a deep squad that has had some quality finishes this season. Summerour would be a challenger except for the fact that 3 of their top 7 runners are in Elementary School. Without them, they will struggle a bit to keep up with the top schools, but definitely could run themselves onto the podium. The defending State Champions, Loganville, just posted the third fastest time of the year at the Mountain Invite. This could be the spring board that they need to push themselves into contention. Finally, Lakeside has several victories this year and has been the best Forsyth County school. Any of these teams could push onto the podium come Saturday.
Favorite - The two time defending State Grand Champion, Woodland, looks like the clear favorite again this year. They have a Top 3 varsity team on both genders and their JV Boys look capable of a good finish. However, with only 13 girls on the roster, will they have enough to field a JV Girls team?
Challengers - Renfroe and Taylor Road both have very deep teams. Both with be very competitive in the JV races, but Renfroe will need strong finishes on both varsity sides while Taylor Road's varsity guys need to rise up and have a great day for them to even have a shot of dethroning the champion.
Montana Archer of Social Circle MS is the top contender in the Small School race
Favorite - Defending champions, Holy Innocents, has 3 wins this season including the huge opening win at the Battle of Atlanta. They have beaten Mt. Bethel twice this year and faced off with some of the top teams in the state. Their most recent race at Marist featured 5 ranked/watch list team in which they ran a 13:28 team average in the mid-90s on the hilly course. It was this gritty 5th place finish that put them over their biggest competitor, which should be the home team, Bleckley.
Challengers - Bleckley ran at home on Thursday last week in 13:35 team average in similar conditions on a course that is slightly kinder than the Marist course, hence the underdog status. That said, this is a strong Bleckley squad that has won 3 of the 4 meets that they have competed in this year. Can they break through this year? The lack of crossover with Atlanta area schools makes it hard to distinguish between the two schools. Right behind them, is Georgia Military College, who Bleckley has bested at home already once this year. They have two wins on the season, but have stayed away from Atlanta. Mt. Bethal is also right there with a win and some very competitive finishes in large races. They have been beat by Holy Innocents twice this season, but could surprise if HI has a hiccup.
Dark Horses - Athens Christian has run in three meets and won two of them. At the third, they were missing two of their top 3. Loganville Christian looks like the strongest of the dark horses and has a win this year. Stratford Academy has a track record of success this year with podium finishes in all of their races.
Claire Petersen is the top Small School Girl this season.
Favorite - Defending Champions, George Walton, have the two fastest team averages in the Small Schools' race. They also have the most wins (3) and the most podium finishes (5) this season. They seem to be getting faster as the season progresses and will be well rested coming into the meet.
Challengers - Bleckley County also looks very strong with 3 wins and a 2nd place under their belts. They will have the advantage of running at home with an army of volunteers that will be rooting for them. Their time that they ran this past week will set the bar for the others to try to hit. Holy Innocents opened with a huge win at the Battle of Atlanta and have had a few second place finishes this year. The 3rd place team last year looks hungry coming into the Championship Season. In reality, all three of these teams look as if they are in a class by themselves in this race and it wouldn't be surprising to see any of them raising the trophy on Saturday morning.
Dark Horses - There are three schools that look like they will have a chance for a podium finish and may even surprise and jump into the top 3. Westfield has 4 podium finishes this year including a win at Southland. They lost to Bleckley by more than a minute earlier this year, so it definitely would be surprise to see them jump them, but they definitely have been competitive this year. Mount Bethal has had a solid season running in some pretty competitive races. They won a home meet and finished 3rd at Big Peach to two of the top teams in the state. Georgia Military has also had a solid season with a win (Peake) and a few podium finishes. However, they too have been beaten by Bleckley last week, so it would be a surprise to see them jump.
Favorite - Holy Innocents is two time defending Grand Champion in the Small Schools race due to their large cross country team. They have more depth than pretty much everyone else in the field and have won every JV race over the past couple of years. Given the strength of their varsity squads, this award looks like theirs to lose.
Challengers - Bleckley County has been runner up in this award for the past two years and their looks like no reason they won't be right behind Holy Innocents this year. Their varsity teams should see strong finishes, but they can't compete with the depth of the private school, especially when looking at their 12th runners which hurts them in the JV races. Both Georgia Military and Mount Bethel could also mount a challenge, as GMC looks particularly strong in the JV Boys race. Both squads weakness could be girls depth with Bethal questionable to field a team.
Brock Brush will try to defend his Medium school title
Favorite - Jefferson, defending State Champions, has been as dominant as they come in the state this year. They have raced 5 times and won all 5 races. The closest that a team has come to them in team average is North Hall at War Eagle 35 seconds back. They hold the fastest time of the year on the boys side, 10:54 team average in a 3K at Athens Academy. All of their team averages have been below 13:00, which no other team in the state can boast. Finally, they are deep as seven runners have run a sub-13 this year. There is no doubt, Jefferson is the favorite.
Challengers - East Jackson has raced with their top group four times this year with podium finishes in all four and wins at North Georgia and Eagle. They have beaten similar good Medium schools in Morgan County and North Hall at North Georgia. They look a half step behind Jefferson, but that is not a bad place to be. Marist is a tradition cross country powerhouse in the state. They have had a very good season with 2 wins (Perimeter and Wesleyan) and 2 runner-ups. Most of their races have been on the north metro private school circuit, so it will be interesting to see how they compare to other areas of the state.
Dark Horses - There are bunch of teams that qualify in this area and not a lot of crossover between different areas of the state to compare. For this classification, there are only marginal differences between the challengers and the dark horses. Morgan County has had a successful season with 5 podium finishes and 2 wins (LCA and Rick Boulis). They have one of the fastest team averages of the year. Pace has had some impressive victories (Warpath and Whitefield) on their way to 4 podium finishes. They lost twice to Marist in close contests landing them in this category. North Hall won a home invite on their way to 4 podium finishes. Their 2nd place at Mountain Invite stands out as their best race of the season. West Laurens won Mid-State and Brentwood on thier way to 4 podiums. Cartersville has three podium finishes and is traditionally very competitive. They were the second best middle school team at Wingfoot. Pike County has three wins on the season including Aubrea Gunderson.
Unknowns - Holy Redeemer has only raced twice this season being competitive at the early season Battle of Atlanta and then 6 seconds back of Pace's time at Wesleyan. They could be a wildcard. Hart County similarly has raced only once, but it was an impressive finish at Franklin 35 seconds off champion Jefferson. They could be really competitive.
Hailey Allen of Loganville MS is a contender in the Medium school race
Favorite - In possibly the most anticipated race of the day, all-class #1 Marist will lineup against #2 Jefferson for indisputable claim as being the best girls' middle school team in the state. In this race, two-time defending State Champion, Marist, has had little competition over the past two years, but I think this year will be different. Marist has won all four races, most of them handily, none of which have come on fast courses. There 13:40 team average at their hilly home course this past week in mid 90s should put some concern into Jefferson. They have beaten the #3 and #4 teams who have beaten the #5 and #6 teams in the all-class ranking. Due to this, I think they go into Saturday's race as the favorite.
Challenger - Jefferson has been similarly dominate as Marist, winning all 5 races with no one even being within 30 seconds. They also have had a couple weeks of rest leading up to the race, which may help them as well. Pace was having a really good season up until it ran into Marist at Wesleyan. They had dominated Warpath and easily won Whitefield. Then, they squared off with Marist at Wesleyan, just getting nipped before turning around the next week and getting wiped out at Marist. Ignoring that final week, Pace had the fastest time of the year in MS girls XC. So, if they can get back to their early September ways, they might just pull an upset.
Dark Horses - Dawson County had 2 wins in their three races. The only teams to have beaten them this year are top Large School teams of Dean Rusk and Taylor Road. Winning a crowded Mountain Invite certainly gives them a boost heading into this race. They might be underrated, but that is how good the medium schools are. West Laurens and Lake Oconee have both had very good seasons. Lake Oconee has won 4 out of their 5 races, while West Laurens has had a podium finish in all five of their races, winning Mid-State and Greyhounds. In the process, they have bested the other school once each. North Hall has also appeared on the podium in all four races winning both in-county races. They were just nipped by Dawson at Mountain Invite, but all three of these teams will be looking to upset some of the top teams to stand on the podium on Saturday.
Favorite - This very well could come down to who wins the girls race. If Marist reigns supreme, then their depth on the JV Girls side should give them the advantage. However, if Jefferson wins, then the tide swings the other way with their boys varsity giving them some padding to make up for their JV girls. Marist has been so dominate the last two years on the girls side, that I will call them the favorite.
Challenger - Jefferson's elite varsity teams could sweep those races, which would then mean that their less depth on the JV side could be managed.
Dark Horse - Pace won it two years ago and their teams are definitely deep enough to fare well at both JV levels. If the top two teams fail to field a JV team, which happens all of the time, then Pace could again raise the Grand Championship trophy.