Alexa Hoppenfeld is one of the girls favorites for tomorrow. Photos by Marc Logan.
Warpath Invitational Preview
Boling Park is one of the fastest and flattest courses in the state. So it's no surprise that teams like to go there for a PR opportunity. We've already seen one big meet at Boling Park this season with the Cherokee County Classic where lots of kids set early season PR's. And there are a couple of regions who will hold their championships there to get one final PR chance before state/postseason racing. Most years I'd be writing about how we should expect big things on Saturday. But this year it's been raining up there since Wednesday evening and doesn't look like it will stop until after the meet on Saturday.
The good news? Boling is mostly fine gravel and that sort of surface actually gets faster with a little bit of rain. The bad news? This isn't just a little bit of rain and the park is right by the river. We could be in for some flooding. So I won't speculate on the conditions of the course because at the time of writing this I have no way of knowing what sort of shape it's in. So instead I'll mostly focus on the races and not the times. Here we go.
Girls Team - 8:00am
Looking at this year's stats it looks like Roswell (9th in 7A) is the favorite, followed by St. Pius X (2nd in 5A), Etowah, and Carrollton(5th in 6A). Looking at last year's stats, Etowah (watch list in 7A rankings) appears to be the favorites, followed by Oconee County (2nd in 3A) and Denmark. So this should be a pretty good race with no clear favorite. Etowah girls are coming off a runner up finish at Pickens Preview and a 10th place finish at Carrollton Orthopaedic Invitational. They are led by Meg Lance and have a pretty tight pack though as their 1-5 split was under a minute at Ortho. That can be tough to beat. St. Pius X has only had one race and it was out of state so they are harder to read. They are led by Grace Von Biberstein who won the Florida Horse Park Invitational, but depth is a concern for them as their 1-5 gap was over 3:00. Oconee County finished runner up in the Varsity 2 race at Bob Blastow and then finished 4th at Berry Clara Bowl Invitational. They are led by Sydney Matthews and while 1-5 gap is not quite at the level of Etowah, they certainly have a group of girls who can contend. Roswell finished runner up at Zack Wansley Invite, then won the Varsity race at North Ga in a team average good enough for 4th in championship division, and also finished a strong 6th at Carrollton Ortho. They are led by Claire Hartigan and Elizabeth Stamey who have been within 16 seconds of each other all 3 races and near the front. But they also have some depth questions. So we've got on our hands a classic matchup in cross country. Which will win out: Etowah and Oconee County who have a good pack running together or St. Pius X and Roswell who have front runners but aren't as strong at the 5 spot?
Ashley Thompson is getting better each week.
Boys Team - 8:35am
Whether looking at this year's stats or last year's stats, Roswell (3rd in 7A rankings) is the favorite. They won Wansley, North Georgia Championships at Lamar Murphy, and finished a very strong 3rd at Ortho. They are clearly consistent and contending for a trophy in the highest classification. They are led by one of the best sophomores in the state and potential future star Christian Jimenez. And the fact that teammate Thomas Rhodes actually beat him at North Georgia says a lot about the firepower they have up front. But they've also got depth too. When they're at their best their 1-5 gap is barely over 30 seconds. They've got all of the ingredients to possibly run away with this thing on Saturday. But there are some teams lying in the wake who could challenge the hornets on Saturday. St. Pius X(3rd in 5A), Carrollton(5th in 6A), and Gainesville (7A watch list) all could challenge for that top podium spot. St. Pius X ran in Florida and finished 6th. They are led by Ryan Boyle who ran a solid race to finish just outside the top 10. Their 2-4 are a tight pack, but they're young at the 5 spot. If one of them can step up then they could challenge up front. Carrollton opened the season 4th at Wansley, 4th at Blastow, and then 11th on their home course for Ortho. They have had a different top runner each week which is always exciting to see from a team. They also seem to be finding their stride as their 1-5 gap was only 29 seconds at Ortho. That will be hard for teams to contend with as the front of this race isn't as loaded as others have been. Gainesville comes in after a 5th place finish at Pickens, a runner up at NOHS Home Meet, and a 5th place finish at 8th Milton XC Invitational. They are led by John Jessup, who has shown some serious potential as a front runner, especially after his sub 18:00 on the hardest course in the state (Milton). Their 2-5 pack is incredibly tight and if they can work together, they'll be trouble for anybody trying to win a trophy. Other teams in the mix are Etowah, Denmark, Creekview, and Lovett.
Ethan Ashley dipped under 16:00 at Carrollton, so he will almost certainly do it again on the flat Boling Park layout.
We are in for a show here! We've got two of the top runners in the state going at it on a (hopefully) fast course. Bryson Gates and Ethan Ashley are the two favorites for Saturday. Gates is coming off a pretty quick time at the 6th Annual Big Peach Mustang Stampede, but Ashley just put up a sub 16 at Ortho. That's no joke. Expect these two to immediately get to the front and duke it out. We could see some fireworks. Not far behind I expect some really good competition for the rest of the top 5.
Ryan Boyle comes in as one of the few runners already with a sub 16.
Tavian Anderson and Boyle are the only other two sub 16 runners in the field and both have started off strong enough to be able to aim for sub 16 on Saturday. But there are definitely some other guys who will be aiming to run with them. Xavier Anderson and super soph Jimenez look like the next two likely candidates, but they aren't alone.
Dillon Watson looks to also be one of the top contenders tomorrow