The start of the 7A girls race last year that saw Marietta go home victorious.
GHSA Class 7A Preview
Before I start things off for the 2021 XC Season, please allow me to express my deep appreciation for what Bruce Taylor did for this sport and this website over multiple decades. Bruce poured his heart and soul into Cross Country and Track, and nobody supported and covered coaches and athletes in Georgia like Bruce did. I believe there is no better way to honor Bruce's memory than to do what he loved covering best: Putting on those racing shoes, donning our school's colors, toeing the line (or grabbing a clipboard), and powering through what should be an exciting season. Rest in Peace, Bruce. This preview is for you.
We once again enter the Cross Country season under uncertain times. We cannot escape the polarizing world we live in as it surrounds our every move. What we can do, though, is prepare. We can't predict what tomorrow will bring, but we can and need to prepare for tomorrow. These kids deserve our best laid plans, and it's time to see what all those summer miles have led to.
What I've done here is used two main metrics: returning runners' 2020 Cross Country PRs and returning runners' 2021 Track 1600m PRs. While neither is perfect, both offer enough data to give me 15 boys' teams and 15 girls' team to highlight. Some teams have already gotten underway while others await this Saturday or beyond, so in the spirit of fairness, I will only mention what we know exiting last school year. And away we go!
Foreword: The chase for the ladies championship will feature some familiar teams along with a few newcomers to the upper echelon. Unlike the boys though, the ladies return a ton of top level talent from last year as only 10 of the top 30 (and 2 of the top 10) graduated. This means lots of teams return quite a bit of stud power and depth which could lead to quite the drama come November.
Hillgrove: The on-paper favorite is last year's narrow runner-up finishers in Hillgrove. They return their entire top 5 from last year's journey, so right off the bat, they become the team to beat. Ava Brooks and Lizzy Smith lead the way here. Brooks was 8th overall in Carrollton last year and took 3rd overall in the 3200m and 8th overall in the 1600m at State Track. Teammate Smith is no slouch either as she was 11th in Carrollton in the Fall and took runner-up honors in a sub-11:00 effort in the 3200m. Not only are they leading the way for this team, but they're both also individual threats, too. They are joined by Reese Terza, Gabriela Osornio, and Meghan Flanagan who were 19th, 25th, and 36th in Carrollton in the Fall and all ran 5:31 or faster in the Spring. If these 5 all fire off how they're capable, I simply can't see a path for another team to take them down. But, this is why we race, right?
Marietta: Could we have a repeat duel on our hands here? The stats say possibly. The defending Cross Country Champion Blue Devils did graduate quite a bit of talent, but they return loaded up and ready to give it another swing. These ladies had an impressive Track season which really threw them back into the mix here. We've got top XC returner Kristal McQueen who was 12th in Carrollton, but then she's joined by emerging stud Nora Hart who went 5:21 in the Spring. Lillian Murrell only clocked a post season XC time trial last year... will she be joining the troops in the Fall? Two more sub 5:40 ladies in Brooklyn McVicker and Gabi Comsudes join the party here. While Marietta is certainly an on-paper underdog, they simply can't be counted out. "Black Jack" Coleman is a big game coach, arguably the best in the business, and his ladies will be ready.
Etowah: Etowah returns their entire top 4 from last year led by Makenna Calbert who was 7th in Carrollton back in November. Etowah's remaining returners feature heavily as 6 of them have all broken 20:20 in their careers. Leading these returners are Abbie Kallbreier (5:40 / 19:27) and Natalie Calbert (5:36 / 20:03) who each placed in the top 50 at State last year in XC. Meg Lance and Olivia Lambert also have State XC experience which is important in a year like this where so many other teams return lots of talent. Watch out for these ladies as there are a handful of other teammates who could step in should one of the above falter.
Parkview: The Panthers are another team who return their entire top 4 from last year's squad (see a trend here?), 2 of whom finished in the top 30 last year. Perennial #1 XC runner Emma Geaney's XC season ended early, but if she can return to form, she'll be able to join emerging stud Haley Primm who went 5:13/11:22 in the Spring along with an 18:48 at RunningLane to cap off her Fall. Jaimie Chen (18:58/5:35) and Abi Debebe (19:07 PR and 23rd at Carrollton) offer a really strong 3-4 punch, but it's the 5th runner that could make or break it for Parkview this year. If they can find one more, they could hurt some feelings come November.
South Forsyth: Having two Yonas sisters on a team is never a bad thing, and with both Carmel (defending XC champion) and Isabel (9th at State last year) returning, we have yet another squad with a devastating 1-2 punch. Carmel's 5:10 / 11:03 campaign saw her lose to some girls she'd beaten in the Fall, but the hills of Carrollton are a great equalizer. A 5:16/11:13 double for Isabel capped off a great Spring for her. They'll need help though. Molly Hanlon broke 20:00 at Coach Wood and ran at State XC, Janisha Patil's rapid ascension to sub 20:00 last year was impressive, and Sierra Brennan adds yet another sub 20:00 name to this squad. These ladies, if they can improve, could be critical for South Forsyth in their podium endeavors.
Harrison: The Hoyas welcomed themselves to 7A with a 4th place finish last year, and they have no intentions of leaving the podium. They return 4 strong runners from a year ago with a variety of strengths shown across both XC and Track. What they'll need though is a few to emerge as true studs to get it done. They've got the depth, but how far up can they go? Samantha McGarity (17th at State in XC, 5:20 in the Spring) is the most likely candidate as she tries to eyeball a top 10 finish. Teammate Kate Curtis went 5:22 in the Spring and broke 20:00 at Coach Wood, so she could find herself closing the gap. Lidia Longo (19:58) and Ellary Hackworth (20:13) come in on paper at 3-4. They could have a 5th showing promise though as Riley Curtis couldn't break 21:00 in the Fall but broke 5:40 in the Spring. She could be a necessary missing piece for the Hoyas as they fight for a podium spot.
Lambert: Lambert may not have the stud (yet), but they've got depth as featured by 4 returners between 19:10 and 19:56, several of which with the ever-critical Carrollton experience. Amanda Feeney didn't have the best PR of the crew, but she showed out the best at Carrollton with her 27th place finish. Bella Cammarota went 19:10 at Coach Wood, and while her Carrollton race didn't go up to her expectations, she did bounce back nicely in Track going 5:22. Isabelle Garahan also broke 5:30 on the track and managed a 19:30 at Coach Wood to go along with a top 50 finish at State XC. Caroline Harris's career PR was her freshman year (19:49), but she broke 20:00 at Coach Wood and should be more motivated than ever as a senior. There are options for them at 5th, and if one steps up, then Lambert has as good a chance as any of these chasers to snag a top 4 slot.
Denmark: Denmark's ladies were often overshadowed by their male counterparts last year, but these Danes look to put their thumbprint on the school's early history. Individual contender Morgan Grace Sheffield leads the charge here as she was 3rd overall in Carrollton last year and broke 18:30 at RunningLane. Teammate Jessica Perriello was 20:22 at State XC and broke 5:20 in the Spring to offer these ladies a really strong 2nd low stick. After these 2 though, there's a big gap that will need to be shrunk in order to get it done. Contenders for this job include Olivia Edge (5:39/21:02), Kendall Hilyer (20:39), Elena Lawler (20:44), and Jade Lopez (20:48).
North Gwinnett: The duo of Tori Meyer and Marianna Gazzara appear to be pacing the Bulldogs leading into the 2021 XC season. Meyer placed 20th overall at State in November but didn't appear during Track. If she's back in form, watch out for her as a top 10 threat. Gazzara was 38th on the hills in the Fall and broke 5:30 and 11:45 in the Spring. Sacha Brickey (5:41) and newcomer Ellie Brink (5:47) will need to improve though to get the Bulldogs through the top 10. NG always has an army of ladies out though, so it's certainly possible for a few to rise to the top and round out what could be a solid team.
Milton: While no returner for Milton has broken 20:00 nor 5:30, the depth that these ladies possess could play a big role in where they land come November. Milton also boasts their home course which is arguably among the only ones more challenging than Carrollton, so perhaps that gives them an edge not easily measured on paper. Calista Cacciatore took 31st at State in November which was leaps and bounds her best race of the season and therefore leads the way for her squad in terms of returners. She is followed by teammates Ella Grace Malcom, Farrah Frith, and Jessica Albregts who placed 59th, 64th, and 71st. Genevieve Trainor showed improvement in Track and broke 5:50 which will hopefully help these ladies excel.
Mill Creek: The Hawks graduated a bit of talent from their 6th place team last year, but they are a continual presence among the upper tier of 7A, so don't sleep on them as we enter this Fall. They have a returning stud in Emily Guy who was 21st at State XC and went 5:22/11:20 in the Spring. Kate Scales placed in the top 60 in Carrollton and went 5:42 for the 1600 to show some improvement. After these 2, there's a little bit of a drop off, but names like Alex Surowiec, Jade Jacobazzi, and Reagan Gakstatter should develop and help. A freshman added to this equation could make for a fun surprise, too...
Brookwood: New leadership for the Broncos entering 2021 as longtime coach Chris Carter is now at North Gwinnett. Enter former assistant / now head coach Lauren Harrison. She picked up right where Coach Carter left off, and these ladies worked hard all summer. The easy to recognize name leading things off here is Allie Wardle who was 6th at Carrollton. She also was a star for the Broncos soccer squad and worked double duty with Track as well, going 5:10 and top 10 in the Spring. She's definitely an individual title threat, and the team picture will become more clear as we see who else will follow. Macy Felton (5:30 / top 70 at State XC), Addy Keszler, Jillian Rovie, and Hannah Mobley seem to be the most likely candidates and will need to close the gap on Wardle.
Gainesville: The Red Elephants have an individual title threat in Ashley Thompson (2nd in State XC, Track 3200m Champion) which always helps. Ami Silva is a sub 21:00 runner who could develop, and if any of their 6:00-6:30 ladies from the Spring had big summers, then Gainesville could be an outside threat for a top 10 spot.
Woodstock: Ella Bailey (5:17/11:14) looks to be a top 10 threat in XC after a rapid development following her Fall which saw her go top 50 in November. Sister Lily Bailey and Samantha Burmeister could be a formidable 2-3 assuming strong summers, but depth could play a factor in determining whether Woodstock can find their way into the top 10 or not this season.
The Individual Chase: What is so fun about this season is that basically all of the individual contenders from last year are back this year! Some had outstanding XC seasons while others excelled more in Track. We have our 2020 State XC champion back in Carmel Yonas. Ashley Thompson kept it close last year but then won her own state championship in the Spring 3200m. Morgan Grace Satterfield ran an incredible race to snag 3rd last year and was only a freshman. Claire Shelton, who hasn't been mentioned yet, is a huge threat to the title following her top 5 finish in XC and strong Track season. Allie Wardle (Brookwood, 6th) has a champions' kick, Makenna Calbert (Etowah, 7th) has been among the elite for a time now, Ava Brooks and Lizzy Smith of Hillgrove went 10:59 and 11:02 respectively in the Spring and were both top 11 last year at Carrollton, etc. This is wide open again this year. Others looking to figure their way into the equation include Kristal McQueen (Marietta), Emma Geaney and Haley Primm (Parkview), Isabel Yonas (South Forsyth), Emily Guy (Mill Creek), and Samantha McGarity (Harrison).