Boys Team Race
It seems cliché to keep saying "Dang. It's been a crazy year in 7A this year!" But clichés are clichés for a reason... so yes - it's been, again, a crazy year in 7A! We've had teams ranked as high as 2nd fall to as low as 10th and everything in between. Utilizing that knowledge, it appears that there are up to 10 teams that can contend for a podium finish on November 2nd. For simplicity's sake, I'll use the most recent 7A rankings which were after Coach Wood.
Best races: Wingfoot (3rd), Coach Wood (4th)
Worst races: Great American (27th), Area (4th)
What an up and down year it's been for Tigue's Longhorns. Lambert will look lights out one week and then stumble the next. They're the team I believe has the highest upside, and their sub 16:00 team average at Coach Wood is all the evidence we need for that. Led by juniors Cooper Bocko and Colin Chapman, the Longhorns pack the toughest 1-5 punch when they're on. There are some depth issues though as there's nearly a 50 second gap between their 5th and 6th runners' season best times. Either way, Tigue's a big game coach, and this program has become a consistent podium contender year in and year out. Watch for them to get it right at Carrollton. It should be noted that 4 of the top 5 runners on this team return - making them the easy *way too early* favorites for the 2020 crown, too.
Best races: Milton Invite (1st), Battle of Atlanta (1st)
Worst races: Area (2nd), FSU (6th)
Defending 7A State Champion South Forsyth has probably been the most consistent team of this season. They've never been lights out, but they've always been a surefire podium contender week in and week out. Brennan Bower leads the way for the War Eagles who also boast a top 5 finish at Wingfoot and a victory at Darlington. Consistency is key in cross country, and SF really doesn't have a "bad" race on their resume. Even so, 4 of their top 5 are seniors, and they know what it takes to win a State Title. Experience goes a long way when running the hills of Carrollton, and this team could use that to their advantage this year.
Best races: Wingfoot (5th), Mobile (1st)
Worst races: N/A
Walton has had a consistently strong season this year. The sad reality is they could be the favorite if it weren't for the loss of stud Alex Helms to injury. Despite this loss, Walton has thrust their noses into the conversation, and it's a testament to Coach Gower and his guys doing what any good, well-coached team would do - pick up the pieces and pick up the slack. Juniors Samuel Balboa and Evan Sommer have really had strong seasons, and Walton should absolutely figure into the podium conversation and even more. This team has rallied and proven a lot of people wrong this season, so it'll be interesting to see how they can finish the job at State.
Best races: County (1st), Coach Wood (7th)
Worst race: Carrollton (7th)
Brookwood is another team who has had a bit of an up-and-down season, but they could be coming to form at the right time. Led by the duo of Will Bray and Luke McNeil, this squad features a nice blend of returning talent from last year and new blood. When this team is on, they can battle with the best of them. They're going to need Bray and McNeil to move up a little bit closer to "stud" status and have their consistent 3-5 in Seth Wheeler, Jackson Harper, and Kai Vigardt repeat what they did at Coach Wood to get it done in a deep field. Interestingly, their worst race of the season was Carrollton, but they've long since bounced back and should be a factor on 11/2. It should be noted that they were left off the podium thanks to being on the wrong end of a tie breaker, so this team is hungry for revenge.
Best races: Warpath (1st), Great American (2nd in seeded)
Worst race: Carrollton (8th)
I feel like West Forsyth is always that team that just doesn't get the attention it deserves. They're always a team that is featured in the top 10 and higher year after year, but they tend to fly under the radar. This year, they've had a consistent season with really only one weak effort - Carrollton - and likely feature the best depth at 7th man which everyone knows can be critical on the hills of Carrollton. The senior duo of Josh Whedbee and Reece Cato lead the way for Tillery's Team, and while they may not be super explosive up front, their depth could prove a difference maker in a field that is as wide open as we've ever seen.
Best races: Coach Wood (10th), Asics (2nd)
Worst race: Wingfoot (11th)
Archer opened up the season at a couple obscure meets due to some training adjustments in the summer, and ever since then, they've been a consistently strong team who, when on, can take down this entire slate. Led by individual title contender Myles Collins, this team boasts a 2-4 that can hang with just about anyone in freshmen sensation Steven McCartney, junior Sebastian Rodriguez, and junior Skylar Taylor. Archer's main issue has been getting everyone "on" at the same time, but what better place to do that than Carrollton? This team has potentially the highest upside if they connect perfectly, but their downside is they don't have a lot of depth past 5th man. They'll need all horses on fire, and if they do, they could be hoisting a trophy and perhaps the biggest one.
Best races: Coach Wood (14th without Kamari Miller), Area (1st), Cobb County (2nd)
Worst race: Great American (33rd in RoC)
Marietta is very similar in setup to the aforementioned Archer with a stud up front, a freshman in tow, and a strong supporting cast. Kamari Miller has had an interesting season which featured a couple races not up to his standards, but he seems to have righted the ship thanks to a 2nd place finish at Area. Freshman phenom Jared Fortenberry and sophomore James May have both had great seasons and could (like several other teams) throw down some damage at the top as both of these runners are top 20-25 threats. They'll need to ensure their #4 and 5 are close enough to withstand a deep field which they've both done (Coach Wood where they're easily top 10 with Miller) and not done (33rd at Great American). Coach Coleman is a fixture in Georgia thanks to both team and individual NXN appearances, and he's shown to be great at preparing his kids to perform when it counts. Watch for them to play a bit of a spoiler on Saturday.
Best races: Carrollton (2nd), Area (1st)
Worst race: County (4th)
The Norcross Blue Devils have had a truly solid season and continue to show they're not going anywhere. Fresh off an Area championship thanks to a tie breaker in their favor, Norcross enters the State Championships with some strong momentum. Brothers Gabriel and Miguel Schlicht along with juniors Yonas Chimbanda and Elliott Januzelli lead this team and just need to ensure nobody's off on Saturday. They've struggled at times with consistency this season, but they've also shown that when they're on (see the trend here?), they can hang with the best of them. Coach Nathan Brooks is one of the young up-and-coming coaches in the game, and he's shown early on that he can prepare his kids for the big stage.
Best races: Coach Wood (11th), Berry (2nd)
Worst races: County (5th), FLRUNNERS (8th)
Coach Christie's Hawks have been hanging around in the top 10 for almost the entire season. They've not yet shown to be a team that will contend for a top finish, but we've seen what happens with teams who lurk around just long enough. A hawk will lurk in tree tops until they spot their prey, and then they hurl down at great speed and sink their talons into the prey's head and eyes. Can Mill Creek pull off something special and patiently wait long enough to strike when other teams falter? It's not impossible, and crazy things happen at State every single year.
Best races: Carrollton (1st), Wingfoot (6th)
Worst race: Coach Wood (13th)
Rounding out the top 10 is Parkview who was punished to the bottom of the rankings thanks to a bad race at Coach Wood. Parkview's had an interesting season. They appeared to be the only team "on" at Carrollton when they won, and then they appeared to be the only team "off" when they raced Coach Wood. They rebounded with a close 3rd place finish at Area, but they'll need their 5 to be on their "A" game to podium. Senior Tristan Autry and sophomore Caden Hall lead the charge, and when these 2 are both on, they offer a top 2 punch that can hang with most. Where they need help is the rest of the cast where Andrew Todd, Yonatan Tekle, Heyabel Tekle, and Trey Durden have swapped around all season trading off good days and bad days. Should all 5 scorers be on like they were at Carrollton earlier in the season, they could surprise some teams. But like every other team on this list as we finish our team preview, they can plummet just as easily.
Individual Championship Threats
Myles Collins (Archer): Myles Collins is the easy favorite for the 7A championship as he's undefeated versus 7A competition this season. The Archer senior boasts 5 victories this year and took 5th last year at State. He's run 15:00 flat or faster an astounding 3 times this season, and perhaps his most impressive race of the year was Gwinnett County where he absolutely slaughtered the competition halfway through to set the course record. This former basketball player is about to finish off one of the best senior seasons in recent memory, and he could gas the field early on on Saturday and make this thing over shortly after it starts.
Noah Hayes (Hillgrove): This Hillgrove senior's team isn't quite as strong as it was last year, but it hasn't stopped him from progressing. He's won 2 races this year including his Area meet and took 8th overall at Coach Wood which, as everyone knows, is a bragging rights accomplishment. He was 7th in last year's state championship and knows what it takes to win. He will need to keep it close to Myles and a couple others to get it done, but anything top 5 (which will be a theme for these previews as well) is sure to be a strong day.
Cooper Bocko (Lambert): The first non-senior of the preview, Bocko did something earlier this year that nobody else can claim: Won an individual championship at Carrollton. This Longhorn also took 2nd at Berry and was just outside the top 10 at Coach Wood claiming 11th. He made a big jump from last year thanks to logging a ton of miles in the process, and that strength could really play into his favor on Saturday. It already has once this year.
Chris Cherono (Grayson): The Grayson senior has finished in the top 4 seven times this season including a couple lower-key victories. The once rival of Myles Collins has watched his compadre get ahead of him a bit, but Carrollton always serves as a great equalizer. He was 9th at State last year, and while he's been doing a lot of grinding solo this season, he's shown in the past that he's just as talented and driven as anyone else in the field. A top 5 finish with an outside chance at the win seems reasonable for this Ram.
Kamari Miller (Marietta): Kamari Miller's season hasn't completely gone according to how he envisioned it, but everything can be forgotten with a great State Championship appearance. He still won at Berry and took 2nd at his Area meet, so the talent hasn't gone anywhere. The question will be if he can discover it at the right time. He finished a strong 6th place at State last year, and his team is one of the contenders. The past often predicts the future, and this kid has shown up when it matters in the past. It won't be hard to find him on 11/2.
Mikias Mekonen (Lakeside Dekalb): Mekonen has won 4 times this season including his most recent race - Area. Mekonen broke away from the field in harsh conditions to show that he's absolutely a threat to contend. Perhaps his best race of the season was his 4th place effort at Wendy's (McAlpine) where he went 15:39 against a strong field. The victory might be a little out of reach, but look for that purple singlet near the top of the field. This runner is not afraid to get after it, and he could stick it.
Kyle Harkabus (East Coweta): The defending State Champion has fallen on harder times in the sport lately, but he did have a nice rebound effort last week taking 3rd place at Area. You just can't ignore talent, and Harkabus likely has the rawest talent of anyone in the field. He's won here before, and he can recreate the magic and contend again.
Connor Old (Walton): Old is coming off a runner-up finish at his Area meet and has taken over as the leader of Walton following an awesome jump in track season last year. This runner was only 44th at State last year, and he's an absolute top 10 threat and more on November 2nd. His team has a legitimate shot at the 'dub', so look for this runner to sell out for Walton.
Brennan Bower (South Forsyth): The SF senior has 3 wins to his name this season and took 14th overall at Wingfoot - just off the top 10. He also won the Milton Invite this year which is held on a course arguably more difficult than Carrollton which is a nice little statistic in Bower's favor. Per the norm in this preview, Bower will have to slug it out for his team to help them get the victory.
Tristan Autry (Parkview): Rounding out the individual preview is this senior Panther who was 13th at State last year and has been just a step off the rest on this list for most of the season. A 21st place finish at Coach Wood along with a runner-up finish to Mekonen at Area gives Autry a glimpse at who he'll have to beat to finish top 10 for his final shot at it. Parkview's also in the team conversation which, as has been mentioned ad nauseum, always means a lot.
Other individuals to consider: Colin Chapman (Lambert), Miguel Schlicht (Norcross), Sebastian Rodriguez (Archer), Nathan Solomon (Shiloh), Jared Fortenberry (Marietta), Caleb Hall (North Forsyth), Will Bray (Brookwood), Brian Pelland (Mill Creek), Caden Hall (Parkview), Zac Shaffer (Walton)