Boys Individual (by Anthony Foster)
Griffin Stephens: Stephens from Banks County has ran the most consistently fast times this fall in 2A. His 16:11 mark from Wingfoot stood as the top-time in the state until this past week of region meets. Stephens has been a regular on the podium since his freshman year and seems ready to take his place at the front of the line. Stephens's style of go to the front and hammer is high risk, but high a reward way to race. He has faced tough competition all year from his northeast Georgia neighbors from the Hall and Oconee county schools, and that experience should serve him well going into Saturday.
Garrett Rogers: Rogers from Bleckley County has done a good job of staying off the radar this fall. He has posted some impressive times on tough hilly courses in preparation for the battle Saturday in Carrollton. Rogers missed last year due to injury, which will leave him eager to make a statement in his last cross country state championship. Rogers will go in as the co-favorite. His record against Stephens in championship races is almost unblemished, and his wait and attack style of racing has been Kryptonite to those who try to gap him early.
Luke Gambrell: Gambrell from Union County is one of only a handful of AA runners to go sub 17: this year. He is a gritty runner, and the tough Carrollton course should suit his abilities well. There are no shortage of hills in Blairsville, so the slopes at State should be a welcome site for Gambrell. He has experience racing Stephens throughout the season, so he will not be caught off guard by any of his tactics. If conditions are tough or the field packs up, look out for Gambrell to make a move on the second loop.
Luke Churchwell: Churchwell may be a freshman, but he has not raced like one this season. He has practiced and raced alongside a very experienced teammate in Rogers all season, so the bright lights of the big dance should not be too much for him (as he was the fastest runner at the MS State Meet in 2018) A hot early pace has not intimidated him throughout the season, so he should be fine sitting in the pack with the favorites early in the race.
Simon Schabort: The freshman from Model has had an impressive year. He has posted several times under 17:00, which few have done, and knows how to run at the front. Inexperience could be his weakness or strength, depending on how this youngster reacts to the unknown. One thing is for certain, he knows how to win races, including races on the state course, as shown by his 1st place finish in the A-AAA race at Carrollton Orthopedic back on 9/9.
Others to Watch: John Morgan Bolmer (Berrien), Cole Register (Vidalia), Jordan Hellier (Model), Buck Ledford (Banks), Luke McGarity (Oglethorpe)
2018 2A Champs Union County
Banks: Coming off a big win in the 8-AA Region Championship, the Leopards will seek to carry that momentum into Saturday. Banks County have two low sticks in Stephens and Ledford and a 3-5 who seem to have found their groove as of late. Even with two potential top 10 finishers, against the stellar packs of Union County and Oglethorpe County, Banks cannot afford to give up too many places in their 3-5. They will strive to pack it up and recreate the magic from 2017, the last and only time they were able to take home the title.
Union: Even though the Panthers placed 3rd in region 8-AA to Banks and Oglethorpe, they still may be viewed as the team to beat going into Saturday. The defending champs took one on the chin at the region championship and will hope to bounce back strong. A similar situation happened at their region championship last year, and they were able to respond by winning the state title. Their strength is their pack and their ability to post a low 1-5 split. Their 6 and 7 can also be factors as they have the potential to displace some crucial points in a race that looks to be closely contested. They are no strangers to hills and will hope that 1800 ft. of elevation in Blairsville will be enough of a boost to see them stand atop the podium once again.
Oglethorpe: The Patriots of Oglethorpe County are young and eager to make a name for themselves. They are led by former middle school state champ Luke McGarity, and he is followed closely by a group of mostly underclassman. They were able to sneak past Union at the 8-AA meet, and that should give them plenty of confidence heading into the big dance. The Patriots have seen success at the state meet lately, where they placed two athletes, Grier and Tompkins, on the podium last year. This year, they will lean on their pack for strength, and hope Grier and Tompkins will chase McGarity all the way to the line. Look for the Patriots to race aggressively like they did at region and surprise anyone who doesn't see them as a serious contender for the title.
Bleckley: The Royals from Bleckley, are a rankers worst nightmare. They have run hard courses, hilly courses, short courses, and Rhode Island courses. While their numbers may not fit neatly into a virtual meet, one thing is very clear, they have a duo in Rogers and Churchwell that will be making moves at the front of the race. The Royals will be looking to return to the podium after missing out barely in 2018. Instead of chasing fast times, Bleckley has been hashing it out on tough courses like Kosh and the state course including Carrollton Orthopedic. Coach Cranford will have his Royals' race ready for Saturday (as their home course is no pushover) They will need a big day from their 4, 5 in order to capitalize on the low scoring potential of their leaders.
Vidalia: The darkhorse of the group, the 'sweet onions' of Vidalia, have been going about the business of collecting some very promising team results throughout the year on some questionable courses.. They have raced a lot this year and have placed highly in almost every result. While they may not have flashy frontrunners, like some of the other contenders have, but they do have a top 10 contender in Cole Register and a pack of guys that could get their 1-5 split down to around 1:20 on a good outing. They cleaned up at their region, placing 6 runners in the top 10 spots. Vidalia has a good pack and the potential to claim a Team Podium spot if any of the teams above them get complacent..
Zoe Sanchez: Our defending champ in AA has lived up to her title throughout the season. Sanchez has not placed worse than 4th in any race this year and is undefeated against AA competition. Zoe stands alone as the favorite to defend her title. She has looked strong on both hilly and flat courses and has ran impressive times. She often goes out fast, separating from the field creating a wide gap, and just maintains her lead. Look for her to employ that strategy on Saturday as well. Will she have company?
Tristen Crosby: Another awesome freshman runner from Bleckley County, Tristen has led the Royals' all year and having training partners that are former state champs (Perez) can't hurt. She has dipped under 21:00 a few times this year and considering the difficulty of the Bleckley schedule, that is an impressive feat. She was also able to run 21:05 at Carrollton Orthopedic in some insane heat, which bodes well for Saturday's cool conditions. She hasn't faced Sanchez yet, so we'll watch and see if she allows Sanchez to create a gap, or if she goes out and drafts the defending champ using her footspeed later in the race.
Mari Jablonski: It's often overlooked that Mari is a former state champ. She grabbed the title in 2016 as a freshman, but hasn't been able to recreate the magic since. This may be the year that she finds herself back in the hunt. She has run several times under 21:00 and even dipped under 20:00 once this year. In 2016 she ran the 8-AA region course in 22:00, and on that same course this year she posted a 21:14. She's definitely in shape, and ran closer to Sanchez than most have been able to this year at her region. Will she be the one to rise up and challenge the defending champion?
Austin Perez: Another former state champ, Perez will toe the line hoping to conquer the Carrollton slopes and be the first across the line on Saturday. She was only 15 seconds behind her teammate Crosby at 3-AA and has not lost to any AA athletes other than her own team mate this Fall. Perez is a calculating runner, who comes on strong the second half of the course, so look for her to have a smart 1st mile and then try and pass her competition with an unrelenting pace thru the finish line.
Zoie Marchant: As the 2-AA Region Champ, Marchant will be looking to better her 5th place at the state meet from last year. After finishing right behind Perez at the Bleckley County Invite, Zoie has shown she is ready to mix it up with the Bleckley girls and other contenders at the front of the race. She has shown the ability to run a fast race as she as went sub 21:00 twice this year. If the race doesn't spread out as much as in years past, look for Marchant to finish strong as she will be wanting to score low to help her teams' high podium aspirations.
Other to watch: Hannah Dodd (Berrien), Sarah Owen (Vidalia), Riley Walters (Jeff Davis), Rebecca Chandler (Berrien), Jesse Schroeder (Model), Lizzie Wadsworth (Oglethorpe)
Top 6 from 3-AA
Bleckley: The Lady Royals' have not shown much weakness this year. They began the year with a statement win at the Kosh Classic, a win that showed the rest of AA that the ladies from Bleckley do not plan to loosen their grip on that big Silver cup. Led by a freshman and a senior that could both finish in the top 3, Bleckley also boasts a pack that could potentially put 5 athletes in the top 15. If anyone intends on challenging the Royals, they will have to work very hard to create a gap early and hope that gap is able to withstand a strong 2nd loop that the Bleckley pack will most likely unleash. No other AA teams have been able to get within the same zip code as the Royals, which is why they will be the clear favorites to take home their 4th consecutive AA state championship.
Oglethorpe: Most teams hope to have a good October, but the Patriots have taken it to the next level. They barely grazed the top ten through the first two months of the season, but with the addition of a few critical athletes, Oglethorpe has jumped to 2nd in the rankings going into Saturday. Oglethorpe will be led by the Wadsworth sisters who both have the ability to finish in the top 10. Outside of Bleckley, they also may have the strongest 3rd runner in the state which could be the key to distancing themselves from the rest of the podium contenders. Ella Stoudenmire, (2019 AA 800 champ) and Oglethorpe's #4, will be running only her 3rd cross country race and her first race not on her home course. They hope she only continues to get stronger, and if she does, the Patriots could push Bleckley a bit, and will be tough to dislodge from the 2nd podium spot.
Jeff Davis: Always in good form in late October/early November, the Yellow Jackets are right in the middle of what looks to be a close battle for the 2 thru 4 team podium positions. They have a great duo of frontrunners and will not be intimidated by the strength of Bleckley, as they have faced them several times this year. A key for Jeff Davis will be to keep their split down and not give up too many points in their pack. This team is well-coached and seem to run their best when it matters, as they were able to grab the 2nd podium spot last year. We'll see if they can recreate that performance, hold off the other team contenders on Saturday and sting the field.
Banks: After a fairly strong late September to October, the Leopards have struggled a bit as of late. Their strength and their weakness is their pack running. They have no clear #1 as several of their athletes have led the team throughout the year. This type of racing can pay dividends in a big field, but the Leopards will have to be careful to make sure their #5 does not get gapped from the rest of the group. They boast the most consistently low split amongst all the top 10 teams, and if they can keep it together in the latter stages of the race, the Leopards could challenge those ranked above.
St. Vincents: SVA is the sister school of Benedictine Military in Savannah. St. Vincents comes into November with one of the deeper squads in all of AA. They have dropped in the rankings after some good performances by their competitors and a down performance at their region meet where they were handed an L by the Jeff Davis squad. They will seek redemption on Saturday and will lean on their pack running and consistent results to upset some of their competitors. Unlike most other teams vying for podium spots, SVA does have depth at their 6 and 7 positions. This may prove crucial in a race where nerves and a hot early pace can get the best of some runners.
Berrien: The Rebels from Berrien are led by two proven athletes in Hannah Dodd and Rebecca Chandler. Both have run very impressive times throughout the season, and have proven themselves on the state course in years past. They are a veteran squad, with 4 seniors in their top 7. The challenge for Berrien will be supporting their top 2 athletes with a solid finish from their 3-5. The Rebs' dominated their region meet, but some of their times were not consistent with what they have been running up until this point. We can only speculate that some of their athletes were taking it easy in preparation for attacking the hills of Carrollton, and we will see if that approach pays off on Saturday.