Holy Innocents' Boys
(all photos by Dan McCauley unless otherwise noted)
Wesleyan Boys (file photo)
This is going to be a great team race with 3 schools having legitimate shots at the State title. No one team has dominated this class since it was divided into Private/Public divisions. Landmark has won 3 titles in the past 6 seasons, with Hebron Christian winning twice. Wesleyan jumped up and won a tight race upsetting favored Landmark Christian and Holy Innocents' in 2018 as the 3 schools were separated by a 7 point spread.
Wesleyan- The Wolves finished 2nd in Region 8, but it was without 2 of their top 5 this season. Wesleyan seems to like Carrollton and has a penchant for peaking there almost every season. Mac Howie should be in a strong chase pack along with Braden Debow. Stafford McDaniel has not raced since Coach Wood, but, if he's healthy Saturday, the Wolves are the favored to win.
Holy Innocents'- Da' Bears won the Area 3 Region 5 title led by 'super frosh' Joe Sapone and having a solid 1-5 split of :50. They will need to repeat this at Carrollton Saturday if Wesleyan is at full strength. Brandon Sertl and William Weldon will provide support, and the team has some depth in a bigger field of runners. The Bears are hungry for their first Boys State title.
Landmark Christian- The Eagles are flying under a new Commander, Coach Mark Caulfield, this Fall, as legendary Coach Bill Thorn (who founded the school) retired after winning 19 XC state titles dating back to 1994. It was an interesting season, as Landmark went to several out of state meets that they had never before attended. Zack Truitt is their top gun and rock, but their chances for a title may depend on the status of Kameron Jackson who dnf'd at Region.
Athens Academy- The Spartans won the region title at Area 2/Region 8 by 2 points and are ranked 4th in the pre-state rankings. Graham Blanks has run like a well oiled machine this season and will be busy up front. The team's chances for a podium finish, however, lie squarely on their 2-5 runners.
Paideia- The Pythons are a well coached squad that placed third in the Area 3 Region 5 Championship behind Holy Innocents' and Landmark Christian. Team Leader Jr. Elijah McCauley earned 2nd place in the Area 3 meet. Keep an eye on their #2 runner Sam Colton as he has come into his own, closing the gap on the frontrunners in October. Their 3-6 harriers had a :13 split at region. A Team Podium spot is within reach.
Strong Rock Christian- The Patriots are definite Podium contenders after their 4th place finish at Area 3 Region 5. They were only 6 points behind Paideia and are very stout up front, featuring Hank Guinade, Noah Kilgore, and Justin George. Their 4-6 guys need to 'bring it' at State.
Whitefield, Stratford Academy, Savannah Christian, and Tallulah Falls (who qualified for State for the first time since 1990!) will all be gunning to beat each other after the 6 teams above.
Everyone is going to be chasing Graham Blanks of Athens Academy. The Harvard bound Blanks has been undefeated since an early season loss to Myles Collins of Archer, and he had a spectacular win in the Race of Champions at Great American (14:45). Devin Wade of Whitefield has the best shot to beat Blanks on Saturday. Devin has the fastest time in A Private this season, going 14:39 at Asics. Zack Truitt of Landmark (15:22 at Great American) should be stalking around the front with the extra motivation of a team title at stake. Mac Howie is Wesleyan's top runner and, like Truitt, will be running all out for a team title (15:57 pr at Coach Wood). Elijah McCauley of Paideia achieved a milestone going 15:59 at Asics, making big bro' Griffin (Brown University) proud! Hank Guinade of Strong Rock pr'd at Asics as well, with a sweet 16:11. Also very impressive is Team Leader Evan Prince of Tallulah Falls clocking a 16:14 at Mountain Invitational in Helen. Frosh Joe Sapone of Holy Innocents posted a time of 16:25 at Coach Wood, and Kameron Jackson of Landmark Christian went 16:16 for the 1A-4A win at Asics.
Mac Howie (file photo)
Hank Guinade & Joe Sapone
Holy Innocents' Girls
Landmark Christian- The War Eagles won a hotly contested Area/Region race by 2 points over rival Holy Innocents. The deciding factor was future Yellow Jacket Erin Feagans winning the overall title, scoring 1 point, and the Eagles having better depth at the 4-5 spots. Maggie Jones, Reagan Hudson, and Jenny Goodwin will be key Saturday for Landmark.
Holy Innocents'- The Golden Bears always seem to be on the cusp to capture an elusive State title. They have a large, very successful MS program, and their top runners move up to the HS level and thrive. Hayden Puett, Reese Neumann and Reese Martin are the engine that drives their machine. If their 4-6 runners step up Saturday, a title is waiting on the horizon.
Wesleyan- One always has to be wary of Wesleyan at the State meet. Now, it's been a while, and their team average at Region was not scary, but their 1-5 split of :53 is more impressive than Landmark and Holy Innocents'. Top runners this Fall are Sophie Villa and Bella Tucker.
Atlanta International- After pulling off a huge upset at the 2018 State meet, AIS has developed some new talent, and they raced very well at the Region meet. They do have 2 extremely strong frontrunners in 2018 runnerup Reagan Mahoney and sophomore Cara Joyce. If their 3-5 step it up, a higher finish is possible.
Athens Academy- The Spartans actually won Region 8 and have a relatively young squad with only 1 senior in the top 7. Frosh Sarah Harrison was runnerup in 20:58 at Tallulah Falls' home course (which is tough and slow). Their 2-5 need to pack it in for a run at a Team podium spot.
Paideia- The Pythons are maybe a year away from a serious Podium push. They have a top notch runner in Luna McCauley (800m specialist), Jr. Jordan Walter, and little sister frosh Megan Walter. If their 3-6 runners can have a good showing in Carrollton, the Pythons could slither their way up the ladder.
Everyone else is racing to move up to 6th or better, including Hebron Christian, Stratford Academy, Fellowship Christian, and Savannah Christian. One very special note: Tallulah Falls' Girls squad qualified for the State meet for the first time in school history - congrats Coach Neal! (below pic)
The Individual title is a 'toss up'. Erin Fegans comes in as a slight favorite to win the Individual title after her win at Region, clocking an 18:15 at the beautiful Heritage Christian Church course. Reagan Mahoney will be her stiffest competition, as Reagan beat Erin at Wingfoot XC Classic, going 18:10. Cara Joyce of AIS excels on flatter courses, having a pr of 18:03 at Atlanta Classic (Clinton Farms), but Carrollton definitely ain't flat. Brooke Browning of Hebron Christian could be in the mix for a top 3 finish with consistent races at hillier layouts. Sophomore Luna McCauley of Paideia seems to be on track for a top 5 finish, having a pr of 18:44 at Asics and having gained excellent racing experience this Fall, just like Browning. Holy Innocents' has a triple threat in Hayden Puett, Reese Martin and Reese Neumann, and any of them could finish in front of the other. Jordan Walter of Paideia was out nearly a month this season due to illness and academic commitments, but she does have potential to be in the mix with a pr of 18:53 from 2018 at the Heritage Christian Church course.
Brooke Browning (file photo)
Reese Martin & Hayden Puett