Foreword: As I've mentioned at the beginning of basically every article I've written this school year, let us be thankful that we have made it to this point. We all remember what happened 14 months ago, and we all remember the emotional toll it took on us to have to break the news to our kids that their seasons (and in some cases, careers) were over. Fast forward to now, and we're just hours away from kicking off the 2021 edition of the State Championships.
The way I'll handle this is to give an event-by-event breakdown (in order of event FINALS) and make note of contending teams/highlight individual favorites. Hopefully, this article will educate everyone from the most casual of fans to the most analytical of coaches so that, come the State Championships at McEachern, everyone who will have read this article will have a great idea of the individual and team threats.
Even by Event Previews (again - in order of contested FINALS) Thursday Night:
Sully Shelton of Harrison (photo by Daniel McCauley)
3200m: Two of the greatest runners in the history of Georgia will square off Thursday evening as Sully Shelton of Harrison and Kamari Miller of Marietta look to put an end to their storied rivalry. While Miller won the majority of the battles in cross country, Shelton has turned the tables in the Spring. Both athletes have broken 9:00 already in the event. Mix this in with the nature of the State Championships and the fast track surface of McEachern, and we could be in for a real treat. The one caveat I'll address though is Shelton will have run the 800m prelims earlier in the day as he's pulling off the 'Distance Quad" of 800, 1600, 3200, 4x800. Will the prelims take a lot out of him? Will Miller hammer Shelton from the start? No idea, but I can't wait to watch it. The 'race within the race' will also be intense as the field features 14 other guys ALL within 19 seconds of each other (!!!). Ethan Ashley of Denmark (9:18), a newcomer to the top Alex Arrambide of North Forsyth (9:20), and Cooper Bocko of Lambert (9:22) headline the best 3rd place competitors.
Team Implications: I have Harrison pegged as finishing in 3rd place in the team standings when this entire thing is said and done, but Shelton alone will be a huge factor for the Hoyas. Marietta is a huge podium threat with McEachern, and Marietta amazingly features THREE runners (Miller, James May, and Jared Fortenberry) in this field. If those guys can score, they can put some heat on Harrison early in the team battle.
Friday Morning: Triple Jump: Starting things off Friday morning will be the boys Triple Jump which features 5 athletes who have leaped 46 feet or longer in Kyle Fisher of Peachtree Ridge (47-7.5), Mark Morozov of Alpharetta (47-7.25), Joshua Rich of Cherokee (46-7.75), Ethan Crite of Roswell (46-5), and Michael Azuka of McEachern (46-0). The Triple Jump, known for its complicated 'phases' to execute perfection, is unique in that one big 'hop, skip, and jump' early can really play mind games with the remaining competitors. You just scratched your first jump, and the very next dude behind you pops off a 47-footer? That'll wobble anyone's knees. With 5 guys all within essentially a foot and a half of each other leaves little wiggle room for error here. It should be noted that Fisher (Ridge) saved his best jump for last as his PR was at Sectionals.
Team Implications: On-paper favorite Alpharetta features heavily here in Morozov. They could get some big early points here while podium threat and host McEachern also features here in Azuka. Field events are always critical 'swing' events in the team points standings, so it'll be exciting to see who has their legs early on in the State Championships
Pole Vault: Much like Marietta in the 3200m, Dunwoody features three vaulters in the State finals here thanks to the new GHSA rules allowing 3 individuals per team in Region events. Harrison Kopp and Alon Rogow are the top 2 seeds while teammate Jack Arant has a great shot of scoring, too. Talk about domination in an event if you can score 3 of the 8 spots from a single team. Following them is a slew of athletes who have vaulted 14 feet or higher this season including Andrew Dassler of Milton, Zane Gibson of Etowah, Tyler Norr of West Forsyth, and Stephen Smith of Harrison. Similar to the Triple Jump, we have a good bit of depth in this event.
Team Implications: West Forsyth seems like an easy top 10 teams with some good upside; they've got 2 vaulters here in Norr and Tate Hunter. Dunwoody could ride into the top 10 (or better) off the strength of this one event alone. You'll be seeing Lowndes make appearances throughout this article and they feature Chance Lucas in this event. Harrison's title threats could be amplified here too with a strong showing from Smith.
Long Jump: Kicking off the 11:30 am session, the Long Jump features 8 athletes who have all jumped 22 feet or further this season (with Kyle Fisher of Peachtree Ridge just behind in 21-9.75). The top leap thus far is Adarrius Harshaw of Cherokee who jumped 24-3 at their County Championships but has struggled to hit that mark since. Jalen Davis of Hillgrove and the aforementioned Mark Morozov of Alpharetta come in next at 22-11.75 and 22-10.25. Isaiah Sanders of Marietta, Malik Drinkard of Gainesville, Deonte Cole of Camden County, Ronnie Hamrick of Parkview, and Ramecia Burgman of Lowndes round out the 22+ foot jumpers.
Team Implications: Morozov of Alpharetta has a big opportunity to score more points for team favorite Alpharetta. While both are outside the 'projected top 4', Lowndes and Parkview could score points here as I have both of them pegged easily in the top 10 with upside to contend for a podium spot should things swing in their direction. Marietta, another surefire podium contender, can also score big points in this event off the legs of Sanders.
Max Herman of Marietta
Discus: Many of the top teams in the field feature heavily in the Discus, so I'm labeling this as a keynote event for the Team Titles as this could help a team catapult to the top before finals in running on Saturday. We have three athletes who have chunked the steel Frisbee over 160 feet in Max Hernan of Marietta (164-7), Jevan Parara of Alpharetta (162-8), and Ethan Sinon of McEachern (162-7). Four more have broken 150 feet. Chasing the top 3 include Cade Anders of Tift, Cody Brown of Parkview, Jacob Rasmussen of Cherokee, and Preston Lang of McEachern
Team Implications: As I just said, lots of the heavy hitters in the team standings feature big time in this event. This could really 'shake, rattle, and roll' things heading into the afternoon field event session. Alpharetta could put some serious ground on Harrison here while Marietta and McEachern can gain some ground on their podium threat counterparts. Parkview lurks in the background with Brown poised to try and pull off an upset.
Shot Put: What a cluster this event is for the 2021 campaign. No one's thrown the glorified cannonball over 60 feet and yet 10 have thrown it 49-10 or further. What I'm noticing in these field events is that there are no All-World talents who should intimidate the field. We have strong, quality depth in basically every event… this is gonna be fun. Grayson makes their first mention in Garrett Brophy (58-10). Closely in tow is Marietta's Marice Brown (58-4). Cade Anders of Tift, William Muller of Roswell, and Ethan Sinon of McEachern have all thrown it 54 feet or further. Cody Brown of Parkview and David Sayles of Woodstock round out the projected scoring.
Team Implications: Some familiar names appear as they'll be coming off the discus hours earlier. McEachern can gain some strong points here in Sinon and teammate Preston Lang. Marietta can gain some momentum if Brown can manage to swing it 2 points and win the event. Brown of Parkview can pump some life into the Panthers with a big hurl.
Isaac Osifo of West Forsyth
High Jump: Could we see 7 feet?? In this field are 4 leapers who have all cleared 6-7 or better. Isaac Osifo of West Forsyth is knocking on the door with a 6-11 jump at their County Championships and another 6-9 clearance later on in the season. Jens Rueckert of McEachern and Maurice Thomas of Discovery have both gone 6-8 while Bryce Fleetwood of Parkview has cleared 6-7. Noel Asiedu of Alpharetta rounds out the projected top 5 at 6-6.
Team Implications: I assume you've noticed by now why Alpharetta is the team favorite and why McEachern has the firepower to contend. Critical swing points can be scored in events where multiple contenders feature. West Forsyth needs Osifo to go big for their top 10 aspirations. Parkview could help themselves out with big jumps.
4x800m Final: New to the GHSA Track & Field Championships, the 4x800m has been an exciting event to follow as the year has unfolded. Some teams elected to race it hard and often while others spent more time developing other events to see which 4x800m team would emerge. Either way, this field features 6 teams who have all run 8:06 or faster with a further 6 who have run sub 8:14. Denmark is your on-paper favorite with the first sub 8:00 performance in 7A, running 7:57 at Sectionals without one of their studs in Karthik Kochuparambil. Harrison has a trio of sub-8:00 runners in Sully Shelton, Parker Buchheit, and Ben Van Rensselear who could help Harrison threaten Denmark. Lambert, West Forsyth, Gainesville, and Parkview are next on paper. It should be noted that Marietta's best season time is only 8:11. Could they be saving their best for last and springboard themselves up the leaderboard? How many new top 10 All-Time entries will we see?
Team Implications: This is a huge opportunity for Harrison and Marietta to make up some ground on Alpharetta and McEachern. McEachern does feature in this event although they're not expected to score. West Forsyth could gain some momentum here too while Parkview could help themselves out with some points here.
Kamari Miller of Marietta (photo by Daniel McCauley)
1600m Final: Shelton versus Miller part 2 (3? 4x8?) commences here as both once again have a big opportunity to cement their legacies in the annals of Georgia Track & Field lore. Both have broken 4:10 this year. What's interesting about the 1600m is that several of the on-paper favorites didn't qualify through sectionals… perhaps by design to save for other events? I'll readily admit I was wrong when I assumed the 1600m would be a traffic jam of talent. It spread out more than I anticipated. Either way, we're still pretty loaded. Aside from the top 2, Jack Petkash of Milton, Cooper Bocko of Lambert, Nate Verska of South Forsyth, Miguel Schicht of Norcross, and Dru Moore of Etowah have all run 4:20 or faster which should lead to a great race for 3rd.
Team Implications: Can Harrison put some big-time ground on Marietta and others? As things close Friday evening heading into the final day of State, how will the cards fall? Any major upsets? We all know this won't go chalk… so enjoy a good night of sleep (yeah, right…), and we'll see how things go on Saturday!
Saturday: Finals Day
Parkview boys 4x100 at Gwinnett County Championships
4x100m: Starting off the action Saturday is the always exciting 4x100m relay. Perennial contender Parkview headlines the field here racing the baton around the track in a State leading 41.59. Right on their heels though are Pebblebrook (41.61), Lowndes (41.63), and McEachern (41.94). Alpharetta, Archer, West Forsyth, and Campbell round out on-paper scoring.
Team Implications: Interesting piece at this point in a State Championship is who has what left in the tank / who's conserving for more strength later in the day. Many of these relay kids will have already competed in field events AND qualifying to lead into this. Track & Field Championships are often won by the teams who utilize their talent the best and not necessarily who has the most talent. With Alpharetta, McEachern, Lowndes, and Parkview featuring heavily here, we could see some movement early on. It should be noted that while not slated to score huge points, Marietta is in the background as they have a shot at making the finals.
400m: Multiple sub-49s have been run in 7A this year. How many of these kids will be fresh? How many will be called upon later? I can only go off the stats I have, so I have to assume full strength. Will Sumner of Woodstock leads the charge with the only sub 48 on record this year in 7A in 47.35. Joshua Knox of McEachern, Christopher Coleman of South Gwinnett, Kylen Crosby of Alpharetta, and Parker Buchheit of Harrison headline those making a charge.
Team Implications: Will this begin the battle of attrition? How many of these kids will be coming off a sellout 800m leg of the 4x800m and/or a sellout 4x400m leg AND the 400m qualifying? Lots of team implications here with McEachern, Harrison, and Alpharetta all having low sticks.
100m: It'll only be about an hour and a half turnaround between the 4x100m and the 100m Finals. Some may be fresher than others depending on who made finals in the relay. This event features 4 athletes who have run 10.61 or faster. Tydreke Thomas of Lowndes blistered a 10.52 earlier this season while Nigel Hussey, Chris Nelson, and Alexander Tate all come in at 10.60 and 10.61. It needs to be noted that team favorite Alpharetta should feature Matteo Carriere while Parkview has Leon Christian.
Team Implications: Lowndes could bully their way up the leaderboard with a 10 spot from Thomas. McEachern's Kenneth Adams and Kaleb Webb are projected to be outside the finals, but projections mean nothing once you step on the line. If Carriere can upset a spot or 2 and Alpharetta has done their job leading up to this, then we could be seeing the emergence of a team champion early on Saturday.
110m Hurdles: Mill Creek's Jacari Simpson leads this field at 14.16 over the Brookwood (always a heavy feature here) duo of Walker Hanley and Malcolm Wheat. Alpharetta has yet another bullet in the chamber in top 3 threat CJ McFerrin. Quadtrellis Johnson of Gainesville, Geoffrey Huggins of Roswell, and Jayvon Hutchinson of Lowndes round out a studly field of 7 athletes all 15.04 or faster.
Team Implications: Crazy things happen when you have to jump over something multiple times while also running as fast as you can. Alpharetta has another opportunity to stamp their legacy here while Lowndes can make it interesting with a few point swings of their own here. Marietta does have 2 hurdlers who qualified for State in Joshua Pitts and Adrien Jefferson, so they could provide some spark if they displace points by both making the finals.
Parker Buchheit of Harrison (photo by Daniel McCauley)
800m: How much will Parker Buchheit of Harrison have left in the tank as he attempts the devilishly hard 400/800 double while also having the 4x800m lurking in his legs? Relatively fresh Logan Ray of East Coweta and Karthik Kochuparambil won't have as many races exposing the lactic acid. And then there's Sully Shelton who will have the 1600m, 3200m, 4x800m, AND the 800m prelims under his belt leading into this. Lance Wells of Mill Creek, Ryan Longmire of McEachern, and Ben Van Rensselear of Harrison provide depth in this fairly deep event.
Team Implications: Harrison could have 3 make the 800m finals which could provide a nasty point spike in their favor. Matthew Ashe of Alpharetta could add some big points for his squad here as he has a good chance of making the finals while McEachern's Ryan Longmire can get his team some help as well.
200m: Similar to the 800m, the 200m is that hybrid event sandwiched between 2 premiere events. How many long sprinters being called upon later in the 4x400m will have the jets to make the finals? How many short sprinters already coming off the 4x100m and/or the 100m finals will be able to power their way home? Lots of familiar names should feature here, headlined by Nigel Hussey of South Gwinnett at 21.43. Tydreke Thomas of Lowndes, Chris Nelson of South Forsyth, Leon Christian of Parkview, and Will Sumner of Woodstock (fun fact: he's also gone 1:55 in the 800m this year!) help headline this event
Team Implications: Lowndes and Parkview will be running out of opportunities to score big points to be relevant in the team scoring yet can definitely do their part to swing the pendulum with most of the heavy-hitting teams either out of this event or not heavily favored to score. Joshua Knox of McEachern could make the finals giving them some points while Alpharetta's Matteo Carriere and Kylen Crosby made it out of Sectionals… if they can sneak into the finals, could this be Alpharetta's swan song?
Jacari Simpson and CJ McFerrin
300m Hurdles: Alpharetta's CJ McFerrin (38.22) has nearly a full-half second clearance over Tyler Tremble of McEachern. Kamen Lewis of Lowndes, Jacari Simpson of Mill Creek, Geoffrey Huggins of Roswell, and Jayvon Hutchinson of Lowndes have all logged 39.22 or faster. The majority of these athletes will be only around 2.5 hours removed from the 110m hurdles (plus whatever else they've competed in), and the legs could be feeling pretty Jell-O-like by the end.
Team Implications: Tired of seeing Alpharetta yet? How about McEachern? Both have studs in this field, and we can't ignore Lowndes who has 2 who made it through Sectionals that are both supposed to score. Marietta's Joshua Pitts could make an appearance, and West Forsyth Connor Reidy is within a half-second (per PR) of making the finals and helping them make some moves up the crowded top 10.
4x400m: All roads lead to the 4x400m Final. It's what makes Track & Field, well, Track & Field. I can't imagine anyone will be shocked when I tell you that… Alpharetta is the favorite in this event logging a season-best 3:18.56. West Forsyth (3:18.99), McEachern (3:19.00), South Gwinnett (3:20.21), Grayson (3:20.83), and Mountain View (3:20.87) all have gone under 3:21 in yet another super deep field where the top 13 have all broken 3:25.
Team Implications: It all comes down to the 4x400m Final. Will Alpharetta need a win to secure a team victory? Can McEachern overcome a deficit and play upset and knock off Alpharetta? Lowndes has a team projected to make the finals; can they push someone off the podium? Can Marietta's 4x400m team make the finals and pull off some dramatics?
Overall Team Picture: On paper, Alpharetta is the favorite albeit not in a commanding fashion over McEachern and Harrison. All 3 of these teams have multiple athletes in multiple events. McEachern is the host, so of course, there has to be some sort of home-field advantage, right? Marietta and Lowndes both do as well (and Marietta of course has Kamari Miller). Parkview and West Forsyth also have some depth in big events, but they'll really need to hammer out some big performances while needing help from the faltering of others. Either way, like any good State Meet, we'll be looking really closely at the team scores as each event ends.
Thanks for reading! I'll see you guys at McEachern.