2020 GHSA XC State Meet: 7A Girls Meet Preview

2019 7A Girls state video

Foreword: This has been easily the most mentally challenging season this sport has seen in decades, possibly ever. Before I begin these previews, I want to say THANK YOU to all the coaches, athletes, parents, timers, contributors, and really anybody who has had a hand in keeping this season alive. These kids will have plenty of memories of this time in their life, and my hope is Cross Country 2020 is a positive one. We do this for them, but I think I speak for all coaches when I say this has helped ME personally during all this. I'm a husband, a father, a teacher, a son… but I AM A COACH and somehow this is the "title" that resonates the most right now -- if that makes any sense at all. Anyway -- off to the previews which I will aim to keep as positive as possible. No "best race / worst race" or anything super critical this year -- just celebrating good seasons in terrible circumstances and seeing what everyone has come Saturday. I hope you enjoy it!

This year has seen Marietta and Hillgrove emerge as the two favorites, but neither are completely invulnerable. A handful of other teams in Lambert, South Forsyth, Mill Creek, Parkview, and Etowah have all shown signs of podium-caliber teams when everything "hits" right. My bet would be your 4 podium teams come from this list of 7, but a few more linger in the background and could provide the Upset Special in a year unlike any other.

HillgroveThe defending State Champions have their eyes set on another title. Losing Grace Ellsworth and Sierra Wehrenberg, both top 10 finishers last year, hasn't seemed to affect these ladies much. Show me other teams in Georgia who have lost 2 top 10 finishers in the State's highest class and return the following year among the favorites to win. I'd bet it's a pretty short list. Coming hot off a Region Championship along with a solid season featuring a 7th place finish (1st in 7A) at Asics and a 5th place finish at Coach Wood (2nd in 7A), The Lady Hawks look poised to contend for a 2nd consecutive title. Led by the junior duo of Ava Brooks and Lizzy Smith along with a strong supporting cast in Reese Terza, Gabriela Osornio, and Reese Connelly, the majority of these ladies return which could potentially set them up for three straight. Let's not get too ahead of ourselves, but they are reloaded and ready to contend on Saturday.

MariettaMarietta opened up the season with a 2nd place finish (1st in 7A) at Bob Blastow and have looked strong all season. A 5 point victory over Hillgrove at their County Championships, a 4th overall (1st in 7A) finish at Coach Wood, and a 2nd place finish at Region (just behind Hillgrove) highlight this team's campaign. One thing is for certain: This team is battle-tested, and if the duels with Hillgrove throughout the season are any indication, we're in for quite the treat on Saturday. The quad of Hattie Rydinsky, Kristal McQueen, Betsy Gordon, and Macie Pfeuffer lead this squad. Coach Jack Coleman, the best high school coach in Georgia in my opinion (and the worst high school coach in Georgia in his opinion), always has his teams ready for the big stage, and in a year like this, his squad has shown consistency and desire. The "virtual" meet gives them a 15 point edge, but paper champions don't mean much if it can't be done on the big day. If Marietta can get their 5th in close enough to their top 4, it could be a huge day for the Lady Blue Devils.

LambertThe Lady Longhorns seem to be getting hot at the right time coming off a 7th place (3rd in 7A) finish at Coach Wood and a 2nd place finish at Region 6 (featuring 3 in the top 10). While Lambert does lack the true front runner, they are probably the deepest team in the field which could really work to their advantage in an overly crowded 32 team 7A field. Charlotte Lawson and Bella Cammarota lead Tigue's ladies, and in a field of over 200 runners, they could finish with at least 5 in the top 50, possibly 6. If a couple of the more star-laden teams have an athlete falter, watch out for Lambert.

South ForsythSpeaking of getting hot at the right time, South Forsyth, who was a very late addition to the party this season, all of a sudden finds themselves in a position to do something special on Saturday. They pulled a minor upset in beating Lambert at Region and also had 3 teams in the top 10 positions. Depth also plays into SF's hands as they've got 6 ladies projected to be in the top 60 including 2 top 10 threats (and an individual title hopeful in Carmel Yonas). Backed by sister Isabel and another freshman in Molly Hanlan, South Forsyth could be the best pick to down Marietta or Hillgrove should either of them struggle. They've got 2 front runners (1 being a super stud) and depth. Both have shown time and again to be critical on the hills of Carrollton.

Mill CreekIt's been since 2016 (Brookwood, 2nd) that a Gwinnett County ladies' team has made the podium, and Mill Creek is 1 of 2 who could end that trend. They just won their region championship and took 9th (5th in 7A) at Coach Wood. Senior Isabelle Hahn has come alive at the right time for the Lady Hawks, and her supporting staff of Edith Kahiga and Emily Guy give these ladies a strong 1-2-3 punch which could really help them on Saturday. As everyone knows, the critical 4 and 5 finishers don't always get the glory but arguably score the most critical points. Look for Kathryn Scales and Andrea Montes to try and keep it close to the top 3. This is a hungry team that runs with a lot of heart; don't sleep on them this Saturday.

ParkviewBack-to-back County and Region championships have headlined the Lady Panthers, but this friendly rivalry with Mill Creek has the most recent checkered flag in the Lady Hawks' garage as they edged Parkview at Coach Wood. Still, Parkview comes in with a 10th place finish at Coach Wood, and it should be noted that only 28 points separated the #4 7A team and Parkview (#6 in 7A). Parkview has a strong top 4 in Emma Geaney, Abi Debebe, Jaimie Chen, and Haley Primm, but the all-important 5th finisher has been a hurdle for these ladies. If all 5 are on, we could see 1 (maybe 2!) Gwinnett teams break the podium-less streak on Saturday.

EtowahYet another top ladies team featured in the Coach Wood Championship race was Etowah who came through as the #7 7A squad. Makenna Calbert leads this squad, and probably the most significant accolade they've accomplished is the Region 5 Championship. Depth is a strength for this team as their entire top 7 are projected to contend in the top 70. Lots of movement happens "in the pack" at State, so that could really swing Etowah in one direction or the other. Look for Makenna's sister Natalie and freshman Abbie Kallbreier to support Makenna in Etowah's trek for a podium finish.

HarrisonThe Lady Hoyas need not be forgotten about. The "new kids on the block" to 7A this year, Harrison has shown they have the tools to contend with the heavier hitters. Another team with depth, Harrison could really help themselves if they're able to get their pack in front of the other deeper teams' packs (and ahead of shallower teams' 5th). Freshman Samantha McGarity, senior Allison Baker, and sophomore Lidia Longo will look to flip the script for the Lady Hoyas and prove they can run with the best of them in 7A.

North GwinnettCoach John Rowland's ladies feature yet another team with some strong depth in 7A, but they'll need a front runner to emerge to push them further up the food chain. In a small Region meet, North Gwinnett only lost to aforementioned Mill Creek by 10 and seemed able to go toe-to-toe with them at both Region and County. A surefire top 10 team, The Lady Bulldogs will look to ride on the coattails of region runner-up Tori Meyer and other top 5 Region finishers Jewel Lewis and Marianna Gazzara.

Walton: 7A State wouldn't be 7A State without a mention of Gower's Girls. After a slower start than usual to the campaign, the Lady Raiders narrowly lost to Harrison at Region and are led by an individual threat in senior and Region 3 champion Sarah Burwell. Hannah Walker and Emily McNeice will look to add additional spark to this squad as they attempt to finish on a high note.

Other teams to consider include Denmark, Brookwood, Milton, Roswell, and West Forsyth

7A Girls Detailed Virtual Meet

Individual Championship Threats:

Carmel Yonas (South Forsyth): 11th in last year's campaign, the sophomore has put together a fine campaign headlined by a sub 18:00 effort (the only one in 7A) at Coach Wood. She hasn't finished outside the top 10 in any meet this season, and her team will be relying on her big time to be the low stick in their journey towards a podium finish.

Ashley Thompson (Gainesville)A new rivalry has emerged this season, and it features Gainesville's Ashley Thompson and the above Carmel Yonas. Yonas edged Thompson at ASICS, but then Thompson reigned supreme more recently at their Region championship, nipping Yonas by less than 2 seconds. Thompson comes in with plenty of races under her belt (10 this season) and doesn't have the added pressure of the team standings. She comes into State with a 2 race winning streak and was 7th in 6A last year, showing she's got good history on this course.

Sarah Burwell (Walton):  Burwell has largely stayed out of the spotlight (until now… sorry…) this season as Walton didn't compete in some of the bigger name races. Burwell could easily sneak under the radar if you're not paying attention, but she's coming off a Region championship and is the top returner from last year's State Meet with an impressive 4th place finish. She doesn't have a blistering fast time this season (nothing under 19), but Carrollton always laughs at PRs on fast courses. While she shouldn't be a dark horse pick due to her history, she comes in potentially as an after-thought for some, and that's a mistake. 

Betsy Gordon(Marietta): Easily one of the most improved runners in 7A is senior Betsy Gordon. Barely cracking the top 50 at State last year, Gordon now comes in as an easy top 10 threat with her eyes on something bigger. It's been a little up and down for her, but her 13th place finish at Coach Wood shows that she can light it up in a crowded field

Ava Brooks (Hillgrove): Last year's 9th place overall finisher at State, Ava Brooks looks to try and lead her Lady Hawks to back-to-back team championships; to do that, they'll need her to run big on the big stage. A region runner-up finish and a 21st place overall finish at Coach Wood highlight her season, and solid course history along with the team aspirations could put Brooks near the front of the pack. 

Makenna Calbert (Etowah)The Region 5 champion Calbert has popped off this season, and perhaps no race was more impressive than her 12th place showing at Coach Wood, downing some truly strong competition in the process. She's got 6 sub 19:00 performances to her name this season, and if she can keep it close to the 19:00 mark in Carrollton, she could find herself well into the top 10

Kristal McQueen (Marietta-1167 far right)The 3rd place finisher at Region 3, and top 25 finisher at Coach Wood, "Lightning" McQueen (sorry…) could be running her best when it matters as she was her team's top finisher at said Region 3. Another athlete who has really improved from last year, McQueen will try and keep it close to Gordon in an ever-important effort to lead the Lady Blue Devils to the top of the podium. 

Lizzy Smith (Hillgrove-863): Two sub 19:00 performances for Smith sit atop her resume for the 2020 campaign along with a strong 4th place finish in the deep Region 3 meet. She was 13th at State last year showing strength on the course, and she isn't afraid at all of challenging teammate Brooks. Like Marietta, look for Hillgrove to attempt to have 2 low sticks in their quest for the title. Smith will absolutely put herself up there. 

Allie Wardle (Brookwood)The Region 4 champ Wardle is another runner who has slipped under the radar a little this season but has won her last 2 races (Region and the "D" race at Coach Wood). She really seems to have turned a corner in her season following her ASICS race, and she should have a ton of confidence in her ability to put herself in contention for the top 10.

Emma Geaney (Parkview): Top 10 in every race except Coach Wood (26th, 19:00), Geaney is yet another athlete who has shown remarkable improvement from a year ago. The top 7A finisher at Gwinnett and Region 4 runner-up (Wardle, 1st), Geaney isn't afraid to "run with the big guns" and will need to put herself up there to give the Lady Panthers a low opening score. 

Other individual ladies to consider are Morgan Grace Sheffield (Denmark), Isabel Yonas (South Forsyth), the duo of Bella Cammarota and Charlotte Lawson (Lambert), the trio of Abi Debebe, Jaimie Chen, and Haley Primm (Parkview), the trio of Isabelle Hawn, Edith Kahiga, and Emily Guy (Mill Creek), and Lexi Pavese (Cherokee)