NOTE: WRITTEN BEFORE ENTRY DEADLINES TO ALLOW PRESS TIME. NOT ALL ATHLETES MENTIONED ARE GUARANTEED TO COMPETE. THIS IS SIMPLY MY BEST GUESS BASED OFF OF CURRENT ENTRIES AND EXPECTED ENTRIES.
Just over one year ago, our Track & Field season was taken to its knees by COVID-19. With it went this meet. I wrote last year's preview two days before the shutdown, and I hadn't read it again until today. My initial reaction was depression -- partially because something I spent hours on didn't actually happen, but mostly because this meet was the first of many, many, many experiences that were ripped away from our student-athletes. For some of our student-athletes, this meet will represent the one-year "anniversary" from the last time they competed before the shutdown. The competition is stacked, and my hope is our kids race with even more of a purpose than they already do.
The goal of the Big Orange Relays is to prove itself as the premier mid-March relay meet, and with the stack of teams set to compete, hopefully, we're well on our way. ALL events are scored as relays, so 3 jumpers will combine their best attempts to score, etc. This meet will be contested as a two-day affair, so this meet preview will be split into those two days based on gender. Hopefully, quarantines are kept to a minimum, and we're able to see all the following athletes showcased! Let's get to it!
FRIDAY FIELD EVENTS
Men's events contested: High Jump, Shot Put, Long Jump High Jump:
High Jump: Things kick off with the men's high jump which features six athletes who have jumped 6-2 in their careers, 3 of whom have cleared 6-4 in Isaac Osifo of West Forsyth (6-6) and the duo of Bryce Fleetwood and Jared Brown of Parkview (6-4). Brookwood has their own 2 stud high jumpers in Onyedi Nwachukwu and Braden Deal while Mountain View's Sam Nicholas also enters at 6-2. Keep in mind that, as I noted previously, it helps to have multiple studs in an event as it's a combined total to win the event. "The Battle of Five Forks" extends to the track as this appears to be a duel between The View and The Wood.
Shot Put: From a team perspective, Parkview enters with 3 of the top 7 entries (as of this write-up) in Cody Brown (47-0), Kwesi Tillman (44-3), and Brian Day (42-9). Robert Joseph of Woodward leads the charge with a PR of 51-6. Lambert's Andrew Vernon provides some depth to the event at 45-2.
Long Jump: Three jumpers enter this meet having jumped over 22 feet so far this season, and two of them are from Hillgrove (Jalen Davis at 22-11.75 and Isaiah Rogers at 22-4). Throw in Steve Dessources at 21-1.25, and you've got yourself the team favorite for the event. Woodward's Alan Wright (22-9) and Blessed Trinity's Jordan McCants will look to contend for individual honors.
Running events contested: Shuttle Hurdle Relay, 4x1600m Relay, 800m SMR
Shuttle Hurdle Relay: Always a fun event to watch (and a complex event to host), the Shuttle Hurdle Relay has been a staple event at the Big Orange Relays for a while now. Brookwood, long coached by Coach Joe Carter in the hurdles, is the easy pick here as they feature 3 of the top 4 hurdlers when looking at 110m hurdle times. Walker Hanley (14.53), Makai Williams (15.36), and Malcolm Wheat (15.42) lead the Bronco charge. I say "easy" pick, but that'll upset the Woodward hurdlers as they have three of their own hurdlers featured here (Alan Wright, Christopher Parker, and Michael Butler). Can they take down the Broncos?
4x1600m Relay: IT'S BACK (again)! The Friday Night 4x1600m Relay. Hyped to be the premier 4x1600m mid-March affair and building upon what the Coaches Invite had for so long, this 4x1600m relay will feature some of the best distance crews in the state. St. Pius X and Decatur had an epic duel for the State XC Championship in the fall and easily feature as 2 of the best teams in this event. Joining them are the likes of Denmark, Lovett, Lambert, and Pace Academy who all featured in the top 10 all-class rankings throughout the season. Blessed Trinity, Parkview, Brookwood, Hillgrove, Marist, and South Forsyth all add depth to what should be an incredible event. Eight athletes expected to be in the field have already run 4:25 or faster this year, led by Colin O'Rielly of Marist (4:19), Edward Blaha of Pace (4:19), and Ethan Ashley of Denmark (4:20).
800m SMR: Capping off the evening will be the 1-1-2-4 (800m) SMR. A fun relay that gives schools a chance to show off their depth in both the long and the short sprints, the 800m SMR should feature some top-level talent. Parkview currently has 3 athletes who have run 11.15 or faster so far in the 100m, 1 who has also gone under 22 in the 200m (Leon Christian), and an athlete who has zoomed a 50.08 in the 400m in Eric Pullum, Jr. They likely enter this event as the favorite. Chris and Josh Nelson of South Forsyth can be seen across all 3 disciplines, but they can obviously only run 2 legs and will need some help from teammates to secure a victory over Parkview. Mountain View features Mossiah Carter and Methias Carter who have run well to open up the season, and they should figure into the conversation, too.
SATURDAY FIELD EVENTS
Men's events contested: Pole Vault, Discus, Triple Jump
Pole Vault: (NOTE: It's possible West Forsyth is only bringing distance kids…). Tyler Norr of West Forsyth leads the charge at 14-5 with a formidable teammate in Tate Hunter backing him up at 12-6. North Gwinnett's Nicholas Rivord is joined by 2 teammates over 11 feet to perhaps make them the team favorites. Ian Mallard of Gainesville has also cleared 14-0 this season. Perhaps we see a duel and chase for 15+ feet Saturday?
Discus: Cody Brown of Parkview (career-best of 166-1 / 2021 best 153-3). Lambert has 3 hurlers over 130 feet led by Grayson Mains at 148-2.
Triple Jump: Brookwood has 2 jumpers over 40 feet in Onyedi Nwachukwu and Daniel Crawford which should absolutely factor them into the team win in the event.
Running events contested: 1600m SMR, 4x100m, Throwers 4x100m, 4x800m, 4x200m, DMR, 4x400m
Sprints: Saturday's running features a smorgasbord of relays which will truly test the depth of both the sprints and the distance strengths of programs. It's always interesting to see which teams decide to load up which relay. Sometimes, teams want to chase a New Balance Outdoor Nationals standard in an event not contested at State (i.e. the 4x200m… for now!). Other times, teams want a live look in a State event against stout competition. Whatever the motivation, the sprint relays will feature some action-packed racing. Parkview enters the meet with the fastest time of the season at 42.44. Mountain View's squad enters at 42.8 with South Forsyth at 43.26. Woodward officially has run 43.53. Woodward has also run 1:33 in a 4x200m earlier this season with a few other teams chasing close. The 1600m SMR gains some interest as, with the 4x800m now a State event, will an athlete double in the 800m leg of the SMR and the 4x800? Will they be called upon to run in back-to-back events with the DMR immediately following the SMR? These are puzzles that we won't know truly how they fit until competition day.
Distance: Very similar to the sprints, the distance squads will have to split between the 4x800m and the Distance Medley Relay. We also have to keep in mind that, again, the 4x800m is now a GHSA State Meet sanctioned event. Will sprint coaches begin grooming 400m kids into 400/800 studs? Will distance coaches try to put a little more focus on the 800m (which is, in my opinion, a glorified sprint) with their 1600m specialists? My guess is it'll be a combination of both, and with region meets only a little over a month away, we may start to see some clarity. Denmark, St. Pius X, Marist, Brookwood, and Decatur all look to be loading up the Distance Medley Relay. Denmark's depth could be showcased in the 4x800m as they'll take on the likes of St. Pius X, Parkview, Lambert, and Blessed Trinity.
OVERALL TEAM ANALYSIS: The home team Parkview Panthers seem to have the most depth. Brookwood helps themselves out with the hurdles, jumps, and distance strength. Woodward has historically been strong in the field events and has some sprints help, too. Denmark could make a huge splash with some big points in the distance events.
FRIDAY FIELD EVENTS
Women's field events contested: Pole Vault, Discus, Triple Jump
Pole Vault: Kicking things off for the ladies' field events on Friday is the pole vault which features a multitude of athletes who have jumped 10 feet with the top 2 over 11 feet. Charlotte Hodge (11-6) of St. Pius X and Riley Jones (11-4) of South Forsyth could have themselves quite the duel. Woodward Academy typically features well in the vault, and they have 2 entries over 10 feet in Jackie Braselton (10-6) and Molly Devinney (10-0) which, keeping the relay scoring nature of this meet in mind, could propel them to first in this event.
Discus: Lambert's Morgan Gore is the only thrower with a mark over 100 feet (112-5.5) thus far, but that could change as Kenzie Stewart of South Forsyth and Anna Clemente of Blessed Trinity lurk in the 90s. Blessed Trinity has another thrower in Ally Fleck at 85-11 who could provide some help in launching BT to the team win in the discus.
Triple Jump: It's going to be difficult to uproot the Woodward duo of Peyton Funderburk (38-5) and Savannah Simms (37-9) in this event as they feature as the class of the field. Their # 3 entry is just under 35 feet, so they're the clear favorites to win the event. Carson Moore of Parkview (36-0) and Ariah Jeffers (35-7.75) of Gainesville will try to keep pace.
Running events contested: Shuttle Hurdle Relay, 4x1600m Relay, 800m SMR
Shuttle Hurdle Relay: Olivia Powell of Woodward features as one of the strongest hurdlers in Georgia, and she headlines a Woodward squad as the favorites for this event. The ever-present hurdle crew of the Lady Broncos will try to serve up the upset special led by Veajah Hylton.
4x1600m Relay: There could be some serious magic in this event. The number three is hugely symbolic in the Catholic realm, and this event features the three big metro area Catholic schools in St. Pius X, Blessed Trinity, and Marist all fighting for their place in history. The current state record of 21:01 was set in 2009 by Collins Hill, and when combining athletes' personal records, all three of these schools feature a combination that can break 21:00. If conditions cooperate and the pace is quick, we could see something special. Look for Mary Brady and Hannah Schemmel of St. Pius, Hannah Miniutti and Katie Hamfeldt of Blessed Trinity, and Ruby Little and Johna Grisik of Marist to provide the sparks for these squads.
800m SMR: Peachtree Ridge and Woodward have studs in Tamiia Fuller and Dillyn Green respectively, so if they can get some help, perhaps they can put themselves up there and contend.
SATURDAY FIELD EVENTS
Women's field events contested: High Jump, Shot Put, Long Jump
High Jump: Eliza Bidwell of Mountain View leads the vertical leapers at 5-2 coming in. A multitude of other athletes across multiple schools has gone 5-0 so far including Mya Hines of The Ridge, Ayesha Kapadia of Lambert, and Mel Pacheco of South Forsyth.
Shot Put: If the Lady Longhorns of Lambert enter (they weren't as of the write-up), they come in as the favorites packing a 1-2 punch in Morgan Gore (37-3) and Karlie Kandul (36-1.5). Otherwise, South Forsyth's Caroline Weaver, Mountain View's Hailee Jackson Morgan, and Amber Brown of Marist have all chunked it over 31 feet and will look to do battle for top honors.
Long Jump: Peyton Funderburk of Woodward enters here as the favorite with a jump approaching 18 feet. Carson Moore (16-6.25) and Riley Jones (16-0) will look to keep it close. No clear favorite from a team perspective jumps out leading up to this event, so keep an eye as this could be a wildcard.
Running Events Contested: 1600m SMR, 4x100m, Throwers 4x100m, 4x800m, 4x200m, DMR, 4x400m
SPRINTS: It'll be a game of "Which event do we stack?" as teams with some stud talent but not a ton of depth may load up 1-2 events while others with perhaps a more balanced attack will look to do just that. Chamblee's three aforementioned studs in Washington, Parker, and Bates should feature heavily on Saturday. Peachtree Ridge and Woodward have gone 48.59 and 49.18 in the 4x100m. Woodward leads the current entries at 4:10 for the 4x400m with Peachtree Ridge and Brookwood lurking. Similar to the boys, will someone potentially sacrifice a DMR or 4x800m relay slot to help close down a victory in the 1600m SMR? How teams decide to split their talent in the sprints will be huge in the team standings when the dust settles.
DISTANCE: Following what could be a special evening will be a couple (at least on paper) super competitive distance events in the DMR and 4x800m. Brookwood and Blessed Trinity both enter the 4x800m at 10:02. Rumor has it that the Distance Medley Relay is the keynote ladies distance event on Saturday as the aforesaid Catholic trinity of SPX, BT, and Marist will see who's got the most left in the legs following the 4x1600m. Parkview could look to try and join the party with a seed of 12:53.
OVERALL TEAM ANALYSIS: This is about as much of a toss-up as possible. Woodward and Peachtree Ridge feature well in the sprints and/or field while St. Pius, Blessed Trinity, and Marist feature well in the distance events with some top-level talent sprinkled elsewhere, too. Woodward seems to have the overall edge, but a lot can happen in this two-day affair.
The "relay" scoring system makes depth critical for both the guys and girls. Regardless, bring your mask and your voice out to the Big Orange Jungle this Friday and Saturday for the Big Orange Relays!
8:00 AM Coaches Meeting