Coach Wood Invitational: Championship/Varsity Race Breakdown

Wait, what happened exactly? Is it just me or did this season fly by faster than any other season ever?  We're already at the Coach Wood Invitational. If Carrollton State is the main course, then Coach Wood is certainly a delicious appetizer. And seriously, who doesn't love some good chips and queso before dinner? After so much uncertainty for months, these kids will finally get to see their hard work pay off on what is sure to be a fast course before they prep for region and state. We have no idea who will be at full strength, who will have kids in quarantine, or who will be training through this race. There are many question marks surrounding this meet just like there has been all season, but that doesn't matter. Ultimately we've got 10 Varsity races that will be full of action and excitement. So let's get to it. MileSplit Georgia will also be onsite shooting race videos and photos.

Boys Championship Race - 8:00 am Saturday

Pace Boys after their victory at Alexander/Asics

Welcome to the main event. Every single team in this race is ranked in their classification in Georgia and we've got 7/10 of the top all class ranked teams as well as two very strong out of state teams. And we will start with Alabama. After taking a year off, 2018 Coach Wood champion Huntsville is back for another go to show Georgia teams what they're made of. They've run some fast courses this year, but they'll still come in as the favorite. Led by Jackson Danner who can finish in the top 5, they can match anybody at any spot. Also joining us from Alabama is Scottsboro. 3rd in 2018, and 2nd in 2019, they're looking to finally get the win here and boast a strong squad. Looking to defend their home turf would be at least 5 Georgia schools that will want to match up with their neighbors to the west. Possibly, our best bet is the top-ranked team all- class - Pace Academy. Led by former ATC MS stars in the Blaha twins, Pace is coming off a huge victory where they took down most of the top-ranked teams. They've got front runners and a strong enough 4-5 that if they catch the right day, they can come away with the win. Marietta is next in line in that attack. Almost nobody can match them at 1-3. Kamari Miller is on another level and Jared Fortenberry and James May make for a nasty 3 headed monster. But the question is how much their 4-5 will hurt them in a race this stacked. It might be too much to overcome. Next up is Norcross who has been very consistent all year. They've got a front runner in Miguel Schlict and a solid, consistent pack as well. If the winner scores over 100, it could be Norcross in the poll position. Lovett is a little intriguing as they've really not run a big race all season yet. Nor have they really done a fast course like what they'll see on Saturday. They took down two big names two weeks ago, so we will see if that trend continues. They've had 3 different #1's which can be very helpful, so expect Joe Urbanowicz, Patrick Pitts, and Henry Haden to all try to get into the top 20. St. Pius has a super tight pack and could very easily have the fastest 5th man of the day. Their problem is they lack the low sticks to get ahead early and if that trend continues they'll be on the outside looking in. Ryan Boyle and Logan Wiley appear to be their best, but with a 7 second 1-5 gap, it could be any of them. Lambert is next on our list but has been without their top runner for two races now. If Cooper Bocko is back, expect them to challenge for the top spot again. If he's not, then Colin Chapman is still a very good runner and can definitely lead a deep team. Westminster comes in with a very good front runner in Mathew Fernando. Their pack isn't quite as strong as others, but their 2-6 are separated by only 12 seconds, and pack running can help in a field like this. And I'm saving the wild card for last. Harrison came into this season as the heavy favorites to be the top team in all classes. But it's been a weird year and I suspect they've dealt with a combination of injuries and quarantines. Maybe that's a good thing for them and they're saving their best for last. Your guess is as good as mine. Sully Shelton is their top runner, but they've got good depth as Noah Connelly, Kaden McVey, and Andrew Cole have all went 15:30 or faster for 3 miles this year. Other teams to look for would be literally anybody else in this race. Really after the top 3-4 teams, there isn't much separating them, it's just going to come down to who wants it more.

My Team Predictions - Huntsville 92, Harrison 105, Marietta 140, Pace Academy 172, St. Pius X 180.

The 'Big Boys' of Georgia XC will tangle again at Coach Wood 2 weeks after Alexander/Asics 

Individually we've got another barn burner on our hands. The question isn't really if somebody will break 15:00, but how many will do it? The over/under is set at 4 and I only accept cash bets. Kamari Miller is just on another level this year. He's undefeated and has put up some fast times and also some dominant wins. The two-person showdown with Justin Wachtel of Mary Persons turned into an even more epic race two weeks ago as Andrew Jones of North Hall reminded us all he's just as good. I expect both Wachtel and Jones to be at the top of their game on Saturday and compete for the win if Kamari falters at all. After those 3, I do think we've got a little bit of a gap. But it wouldn't surprise me to see Jackson Danner of Huntsville or Miles Brush of Chelsea get a top 3 finish. The individual wild card here is Sully Shelton of, you guessed it, Harrison. The 2019 NXN finalist hasn't looked quite as strong this year as last year, but it's certainly possible it's because of weird things happening over at Harrison. Don't for a second count out this kid just because he hasn't done it yet this year. Other individuals to watch would include Will Pinson (Huntsville), Zack Truitt (Landmark), Collin Jones (Carrollton), Adam Wade (Blessed Trinity), Cooper Atkins (Scottsboro), Cooper Bocko (Lambert), Andrew Todd (Parkview), Matthew Fernando (Westminster), Blahas (Pace), Patrick Motes (Rome), Schlicht (Norcross), Jacob Peters (Mill Creek).

My Predictions - Miller 14:43, Wachtel 14:47, Jones 14:47, Shelton 14:52, Brush 15:08

Girls Championship Race - 8:25 am, Saturday

Blessed Trinity's awesome squad at Alexander/Asics

Just like the boys, this one is absolutely loaded with talent. Unlike the boys, the girls look far more likely to have a Georgia team hoisting the top trophy. Come on guys, get your act together! Only one of the top 10 teams all class will not be in attendance, so let's start with our top-ranked team in the state - Blessed Trinity. Two weeks ago they averaged 18:36.37 for their top 5 runners. There has only been one team in the last decade to average faster than that - St. Pius at Coach Wood 2019 with 18:34.96. Asics had hills and Coach Wood does not. There is a VERY good chance we see the fastest team average since 2008 on Saturday. Why do I mention 2008? Well, that was the last of the very dominant Collins Hill squads who averaged under 19:00 at every single meet that year with their fastest being an 18:11.87 team average at their region meet (another flat course). How good was that team? Well, if everybody else in 5A (highest classification at the time) that year was on the same team, they still would have won 19-31. They placed 9th at Nike Nationals. They put 7 girls under 19:00. It was truly an amazing team. So why am I bringing this up? Because I'm predicting the BT girls getting very close to that 18:11 team average and I want everybody to know ahead of time what that would mean if they do. This is a truly special team when they're at full strength and so they come in as the favorites. They've got two absolutely amazing talents up front, Hannah Miniutti and Kelly Ann Sutterfield, and almost have all of their scorers under 19:00- expect it to happen on Saturday. But, let's not discount their catholic school rivals either, who are both putting together very strong seasons. St. Pius X has a couple of stud runners who placed 3rd and 6th two weeks ago in a stacked race. That front running duo, Mary Brady and Hannah Schemmel, is hard for anybody to match, and don't forget their 3rd runner, Catherine Breault, was also all metro last year. They've got some depth as well with 7 girls on their team who have broken 20:00 this year. The problem is the gap from BT 4-5 to Pius 4-5. If that gap doesn't close, especially in a race like this, it likely won't matter what their top 3 girls do. I feel like there are 3 things in life you can count on. Death, Taxes, and Marist girls being one of the top XC teams in the state. They've got a couple of front runners in Ruby Little and Nicole Pizzo and a very strong pack yet again. It's been a winning formula for years and their depth is unmatched by anybody. They should finish very high in the team results on Saturday. Pope is our next team that looks to challenge for a trophy on Saturday. They also have a strong front runner, Sophie Boice, and a good pack. The only potential knock against them is a slightly weaker 5th runner. Don't get me wrong, 20:14 is a very good time for a 5th runner when you've got the talent they have. I'm just not sure if they can keep up with the top 3 squads. Our next team was very close to Pope last time they raced. They were very similar to each other too. Pope was slightly better at 1-4 but Hillgrove was a little better at 5 and it almost canceled out. I think we should see something similar on Saturday. If Pope isn't quite as strong or Hillgrove runs slightly better, expect them to switch places but these two teams are the on-paper favorites to round out the top 5. Not far behind we have South Forsyth who finally put all of their tops girls on the line two weeks ago and looked good. They've got a good front runner in Carmel Yonas and a tight pack, but their pack is a little behind the other teams on this list. If that pack can drop 15-20 seconds then all of a sudden they're very much in the mix. After that we've got Pace Academy who finds themselves in new territory mixing it up with the top teams all class. They weren't scared two weeks ago, so let's see if they can put it all together again this time too. For the girls the wild card appears to be Marietta. This team has the talent to mix it up in the top 5, but they've also shown that they can fall out of the top 10. Their 5th is maybe a little weaker than their 1-4, but when they're on they are very good. So many other teams can make a splash and get into our top 10, so if you were left off, then pin this to your bulletin board and prove me wrong.

My predictions - Blessed Trinity 65, St. Pius X 103, Marist 115, Marietta 178, Hillgrove 192

Jenna Hutchins will try to set a new course record at McIntosh Nature Reserve

Individually, this race is already over. Jenna Hutchins of Science Hill is coming back to Georgia to show the nation what she's got. She's already run under 16:30 this year, can she go under 16:15? Can we let her race the boys and see how fast they help her run? Expect her to go early and hammer the pace. After that I suspect we will see a preview of the 5A state meet with Mary Brady of St. Pius X, Kelly Ann Sutterfield, and Hannah Minuitti both from Blessed Trinity. So far Brady is undefeated against Georgia runners this year, but it's been close. The senior has emerged showing some serious strength to go along with her speed this fall. Sutterfield has been a few steps behind Brady twice this year, and in doing so has put together a very impressive resume. If she can find a little bit more in the end she can come out on top. The 3rd member of this pack is Minuitti and might be the best of the 3. She didn't quite look herself last time they raced, but the 2019 NXN finalist certainly knows how to race upfront. She's also got a great kick so if she's there in the end you better watch out. My wild card in this race is going to be Kiley Murphy from Brookstone. She has put up some good times and gotten a couple of good wins, most notably at Carrollton Ortho. I'm just not sure if she can hang with Miniutti and company. Other individuals to watch in this race include Ruby Little (Marist), Katherine Law (Jefferson), Sophie Boice (Pope), Cady McPhail (Chelsea), Hannah Schemmel (St. Pius X), Caylee Wagner (North Hall), MaKenna Calbert (Etowah), Brooke Browning (Hebron Christian), Ava McIntosh (Huntsville), Carmel Yonas(South Forsyth), and Cara Joyce (Atlanta International). 

My Predictions - Hutchins 16:12, Brady 17:35, Miniutti 17:36, Sutterfield 17:45, Murphy 17:57

Boys D race - 10:30 am, Saturday

Will Bray is Brookwood's top runner

Maybe the best thing about this meet is the fact that not only do we get to see two loaded races in the C races, but we also get great competition in the D races. The teams in these two races are no joke and the top teams in these races could easily make a case that they belong in the C races. I am sure we will see the top 2-3 teams in the D races do better than the bottom 2-3 teams in the C races. So who will that be? Well for the boys let's start with Brookwood. Has there ever been a year when Brookwood wasn't good at cross country? Seriously. The school was founded in 1981 and won its first boys XC title in 1989 in the highest classification. I gotta imagine they were good for at least a few years before then and they've been good ever since. They went 20+ years where they finished on the podium in the highest classification including two NXN bids. That Snellville water must have magic in it because they're still very good and I think we will see their best as we hit the end of the season here. This team is led by Will Bray, the Gwinnett county champion. They also have a tight 2-4. The only potential weakness is at 5th man, but they've got enough depth that if somebody steps up they should come away victorious. If they are rounding into shape, then lookout... Challenging them could be two of their Gwinnett County rivals. Archer is a team that's got some firepower upfront with Sebastian Rodriguez, Skylar Taylor, and Miles Furguson. If we only scored 4, I would expect them to win, but they've got much bigger depth questions to answer. In a strong field that could prove too costly for them. The other Gwinnett team in the mix could be Wesleyan. They've run some fast courses, but they've run them well. They're led by Mac Howie and have the tightest 2-4. Other teams looking to sneak in here would be North Atlanta, South Forsyth, Roswell, and Carrollton (who will be without Collin Jones who is running the C race).

Joe Sapone leads the pack at Marist

Individually we should have a great race here. Will Bray is only a slight favorite over Joe Sapone of Holy Innocents' and Jonathan Greene of Evans. Bray is a smart racer with a nasty kick; I expect him to be patient on Saturday. It won't be easy to break him. But those two will give it their all. Others looking to contend for the top 5 include Rodriguez (Archer), Nate Verska (South Forsyth), Colton Olvey (Starrs Mill), Will Jennings (Carrollton), Howie (Wesleyan), Ethan Curnow (North Atlanta), and Taylor (Archer).

Girls D race - 10:55 am, Saturday

Allie Wardle of Brookwood

Wow. Should be another tight race here. I'm going to start with Brookwood again, even if they're not quite the favorite in this one. This is another example of a program that has been doing things well for so long. They won their first title in 1985, four years after the school opened and four years before the boys. That is truly something. Just a little history for those of you who don't realize that Brookwood, as a school, has been doing this just as well as anybody in the state for 35 years. Unbelievable. So here they are again with a good team, like always. They've got a front runner in Allie Wardle who could win the race and they've also got a tight pack and depth. The only potential weakness could be at 2-3 where they aren't quite as strong as some other teams. But if a couple of girls can run a little bit faster, then they could come away with the win. On paper, though it should be a tight race between Allatoona and Starrs Mill. Starrs Mill has a girl who could win it in Darby Olive, a very good 2nd in Allie Walker, and they've got depth as they are a little bit stronger at 6-7 in case somebody has an off day. But, Allatoona is not far behind at 1-2 and has a tighter pack in 3-4-5 that could make the difference. It should be a very good battle. Other teams that should challenge for a top finish are Scottsboro, Holy Innocents', and Roswell.

Hayden Puett (795) leads the pack at Marist

Individually this might come down to Olive Versus Wardle. But don't count out Puett of Holy Innocents. She's run 19:08 this year and seems very capable of running with the leaders. Other girls who can challenge for a top 5 spot include Lexi Pavese (Cherokee), Mylah Land (Carrollton), Walker (Starrs Mill), Claudia Gatti (Norcross), Lynley Blocker (Roswell), Maddie Gossett (Scottsboro), and Sydney Lamberson (Lovett). 

Boys E race - 1:00 pm, Saturday

Sam Colton of Paideia at the rainy Jefferson Invitational.

An exciting weekend of racing will not end early. Even the afternoon races will have a ton of excitement to them. Take this race for example which is almost a dead heat between four different teams. Lakeside Evans and Allatoona have slightly better 1-2 punches, but more question marks at 3, 4, and/or 5. Meanwhile, Hillgrove and Jefferson have a little bit more depth, but not quite as much firepower up front. There's definitely not a favorite and I'm hopeful that the outcome is just as close as the virtual meet suggests. Not far behind those teams are Paideia, Cherokee, and Centennial and any of them could easily leapfrog one of those top four teams for the win. When there are at least 7 teams who can win a race, it really doesn't get much better than that in cross country racing. Individually we've got Sam Colton of Paideia and Dominick Di Lillo of Cherokee fighting for the win. It's anybody's race so I hope to see it come down to the last 400m. Battling it out for the top 5 spots should be Elijah McCauley (Paideia), Eli Corn (East Paulding), Ethan Kurilko (Lakeside Evans), Gabriel Bowman (Allatoona), and Matthew Shroeder (Jefferson).

Girls E race - 1:25 pm, Saturday

Ava Caldwell of North Oconee just won the Clarke-Oconee Championships on Tuesday. 

Sigh, sadly the meet must come to an end at some point. I'm sure Coach Christie and Coach Sexton will be ready for their afternoon naps at some point around this race. But they better not fall asleep because this one looks to be a lot of fun too! I've got it as a very tight team battle between Archer and North Oconee. They match up very evenly across the board so that usually means whoever is better at 2-3-4 will come away with the win. I've often been told the fifth runner wins the race, but I've always thought that if a team can put the race away with their middle runners, then it won't matter if the fifth runner is a little off and I think that will hold true here too. White County, Paideia, and East Coweta would be the next in line for the win if those first two teams can't get it done. Overall there isn't much separating any of those top 5 teams. Individually we've got a great battle on our hands with two girls who have run in the 18:30's this year. Catherine Townsend of North Atlanta and Simone Rojas of Evans should put on a pretty good show to end the day here. Chasing them will be Madison Kennedy (Evans), Ava Caldwell (North Oconee), Jordan Walter (Paideia), Luna McCauley (Paideia), and Abby Clark (North Cobb Christian).


Boys A Race - 4:00 pm, Friday

Right out of the gate we should have ourselves a great race on the boy's team side. It'll definitely be a nice study on the age-old question of whether or not you'd rather have front runners like William Elder and Diego de Alba of Chamblee or a nice tight pack of 5 runners like Greater Atlanta Christian whose 1-5 could be within 30 seconds of each other. Also in the mix could be Wheeler and Bremen. Individually this race could have four guys who can win it. Carl Spivey from Bremen comes in as the favorite, but don't be surprised to see Elder, De Alba, or Ryan Rapaport from Mt. Vernon come away victorious.

Girls A Race - 4:45 pm, Friday

On paper, this one appears to be an easy win for Lakeside, Dekalb. They have a solid front runner in Maggie Welp and a strong 2-3-4 pack of girls. The only potential weak spot could be at the 5th runner, but it seems unlikely anybody can match them. Chamblee and Landmark Christian appear to be the two closest to being able to make a push. Individually Zoe Garcia of Chamblee is the favorite followed by teammate Ariel Ellis. Also in contention for a top finish would be Welp, Maggie Jones of Landmark, and Lauren Mitchell of Lakeside Evans. In case you aren't a movie buff, Jones is now set to co-star in a new sitcom premiering soon called 'B-Positive' She first burst onto the big screen back in 2011 in 'We Bought A Zoo' starring Matt Damon and Scarlett Johanssen. Google it and take a watch. 

Boys B Race - 5:40 pm, Friday

This will be an interesting team battle between a few teams that appear too close to separate. Veterans, Whitefield Academy, Cherokee Bluff, and Alpharetta all look ready to go for the win. Whitefield is very strong with their top 4, and if they can find a solid 5th man, this race should be theirs. Cherokee Bluff has a tighter pack, but Veterans appear to be a slight favorite with no real weakness. Individually, we've got another good race on our hands. Taylor Wade of Whitefield and Aldi Susanto of Peachtree Ridge are almost dead even. But they're not completely gone from the pack. Look for Peyton Golden (Whitefield), Mohammed Ibrahim (Veterans), Trent Jackson (Veterans), Sebastian Nandkeolyar (Whitefield), Kyle Boyd (Cherokee Bluff), Ben Casteel (Cherokee Bluff), and Spencer Ethridge (Alpharetta) to fight hard.

Girls B Race - 6:05 pm, Friday 

Westminster girls come in as a pretty solid favorite for this one, choosing to race Friday night in the smaller field and enjoy sleeping in on Saturday morning. They've got a great 1-2 punch and the depth to match up with anybody else. Should they falter expect to see Alpharetta or Cherokee Bluff take the win from them. Individually it'll probably come down to Cate Stevens versus Palmer Walstead, both from Westminster. After them could be Addison Myers (Cherokee Bluff), Lyric Minter (Duluth), Laney Pierce (Peachtree Ridge), Caitlyn Koske (Veterans), or Savannah Willis (Cherokee Bluff).