2021 Coach Wood Invitational Meet Preview

The 2020 girls race saw some very fast times across the board

2021 Coach Wood Invitational

For the 19th time in history, the Coach Wood Invitational is upon us.  What originally started as a very small meet among Gwinnett County teams has now turned into an all-class State Meet 3 weeks before the "big dance".  Recently, some of the best teams from Alabama have joined the show; this year, Scottsboro is the guest of honor and will strive to put the Georgia teams in their place on their home turf. 9 of the top 10 All-Class teams for BOTH genders will be on display along with many others trying to force their way in!  Do not miss the 19th running of the Coach Wood Invitational!

Boys' Individual:  Will we see another sub-15:00 performance?

Last year, we saw Kamari Miller drop a 14:51 to steamroll the field.  42 runners in the championship field broke 16:00 with the top 11 breaking 15:30.  The weather appears to be dry between now and then, and if we can speed up that cold front a little bit, we could have even more optimal conditions for fast times.  To date, nobody in the field has broken 15:00 in their careers.  This looks to be a super dense and competitive boys' field.  We could see a pretty good battle near the top between Scottsboro's Evan Hill and a handful of Georgia studs.  Hill took top 10 at Southern Showcase in a loaded field and has only not broken 16:00 once this season.  He is certainly battle tested as his resume includes a 9th place finish at the aforementioned Southern Showcase, 7th at Jesse Owens, and 3rd at Chickasaw Trails - all very competitive fields.  He's improved a lot from last track season and is looking to get what would be the biggest win of his career.  Speaking of biggest wins of their careers, Ethan Ashley of Denmark notched a big one at Alexander / ASICS, narrowly out-willing Pace Academy's Edward Blaha by .01.  Ashley is currently undefeated in all 3 of his races this season, and with his strong finishing kick and clearly good form, he will look to extend that winning streak on Saturday.  Blaha obviously will want revenge, and he appears to be rounding to form at a perfect time.  He's got two 4th place finishes to his name in strong fields and will put himself up there early in Whitesburg.  James May of Marietta is another stud who is realizing his true potential.  Anyone who can go top 5 in the Race of Champions at Great American deserves top billing, and the reigning Cobb County champion has just as good a chance as anyone to win this race.  Another huge threat for the win is Holy Innocents' Joe Sapone who won the previously mentioned Chickasaw Trails Invitational and followed it up with an impressive win at Wingfoot.  He's won his first 3 races of the season and is squarely in contention for the win here.  And then we've got Westminster's Matthew Fernando - a kid who has gone top 3 in all 4 of his races so far this season but hasn't yet won "the big one".  He was only 8 seconds off the win (Sapone) at Wingfoot and even beat Blaha head to head there and also went top 3 at Carrollton Ortho, defeating James May in the process.  Could Saturday be his big opportunity to get his signature win of the season?  There are plenty of other studs to pay attention to, including Nathan Solomon of Shiloh, Ben Bergey and Nate Verska of South Forsyth, Joey Sandel of Johnson Ferry Christian Academy, Ben Rothering of Blessed Trinity, Ethan Nordman of Mill Creek, Miles Ferguson of Archer, Andrew McGinnis of Calvary Christian, Christian Gonzalez of Decatur, and Garrett Jones of Starr's Mill.  There isn't one super heavy favorite coming in, so this could lead to a very competitive and therefore very fast boys' individual race.

Boys' Team:  Can Georgia get revenge?

Huntsville won in 2020 and 2018, and Homewood won in 2019.  Not since the meet moved to Whitesburg has a Georgia boys' team won Coach Wood.  Hey - Alabama football just went down and Georgia catapulted to #1... maybe it's a sign of things to come!  On paper, I see this as a 4 team race.  Scottsboro will look to extend the 'Bama winning streak, and Mill Creek, Marietta, and Decatur are the 3 biggest hopes of ensuring that doesn't happen.  Scottsboro, led by individual favorite Evan Hill, has had an impressive season.  They took 5th place at the Southern Showcase and averaged 16:12 despite being down their usual 5th man.  When full strength, their 5th is still a relative weakness, but the gap is close enough that if they fire off well, they can get the job done. Their 1-3 punch of Hill, Rex Green, and Stephen Jones swept Hoover, a typical Alabama power, just last week, so if something similar can happen this Saturday, they could be tough to beat.  Where their fountain could run dry though is if a team like Mill Creek, known this season for being pretty deep, can swoop in and rebound from 2 weeks ago.  Now, I know I say "rebound"... yet they won... but it wasn't as dominant as they've looked at other points this season.  The "Host Hawks" have a stud in Nordman and another stud just waiting to break loose following injury in Jake Peters.  If Peters unloads and the rest follow, we could see a big MC Baby celebration.  Marietta, the perennial stud factory, of course must be mentioned as a threat, too.  James May is an individual favorite to win, and this team is coming off an impressive 9th place finish in the Race of Champions at Great American - easily their best race of the season.  Their #2, Jared Fortenberry, has shown signs of true star power in the past and took a step back in that direction at that race, so if he continues to perform, and the 3-5 do their jobs?  The Blue Devils could do what the Blue Devils have done many times - win a big race.  We round it all out with Decatur who appears to be one piece short of being not just the favorite but an overwhelming favorite in this race.  At ASICS, they only lost to Mill Creek by 5, but their 5th runner, a freshman, was almost a minute behind #4.  If they can stop the bleeding at #5, and we all know how stud freshman can magically develop over a season, then they become the winners of this race, end the 'Bama streak, and claim the top spot all-class in Georgia.  Other teams that should be taken seriously include Lambert, Blessed Trinity, Pace Academy, Harrison, Brookwood, Roswell, Denmark, Westminster, and St. Pius X.

Girls' Individual:  18 within a minute!

This girls' individual race could be as competitive as the boys' race as 24 girls enter who have broken 19:00 this season.  Last year, Jenna Hutchins blew the field away with a course record 16:39 which could withstand the test of time.  Even so, the depth of this field could produce some massive PRs assuming it stays close early.  By season-best, Ruby Little of Marist leads the way.  Little has finished 1st or 2nd in each of her first 4 races including an impressive 18:08 at Wingfoot where she simply dug for reserves that nobody else besides her knew existed.  She has only lost to one Georgia runner so far this year - Caroline Hood of Pace Academy.  Hood has also had an incredibly impressive season.  Like her sophomore counterpart, Hood has finished 1st or 2nd in each of her races this season.  These 2 had an awesome duel (all caught on video!) the second half of Wingfoot, so we could be in for Little vs. Hood part 2 on Saturday which no fans would complain about.  Katherine Law of Jefferson has a similar resume to Little and Hood.  She's gone 3rd or better in each of her races so far this season including a dominant win early on at Bob Blastow.  She was only 11 seconds behind Hood at ASICS and will look to shrink that gap in Whitesburg.  Grace Von Biberstein of St. Pius X is another stud in this loaded field.  She was the top GA finisher at Great American a couple weeks ago and was 4th at Wingfoot.  She won her first 2 races of the season and appears to be gaining valuable experience in loaded fields.  Watch for her to mix it up with the top cats early on at CW.  Samantha McGarity of Harrison is yet another stud.  Interestingly enough, the top 4 runners at Wingfoot all get to slug it out again this Saturday!  McGarity was 3rd in that field (just in front of Von Biberstein) and had a super impressive 7th place finish at Southern Showcase.  She has yet to get a win this season, and this could change on Saturday.  Carmel Yonas of South Forsyth, the defending 7A State Champion, has put together a strong season of her own.  She was 4th at ASICS and the 2nd Georgia finisher at the Southern Showcase.  Ellie Brewer of Hebron had a little bit of a hiccup at ASICS but has otherwise had an impressive season led by her Gwinnett County Championships victory.  Katie Hamfeldt of Blessed Trinity hasn't finished lower than 8th in any race this season and could be ready to strike at the right time.  Freshman sensation Addison Adair from Pope catapulted herself to #1 on her team with her impressive 7th place finish at Wingfoot and could be figuring it out in the early stages of what could be a long, successful career.  Other studs in the field who need to be noted include Allie Wardle of Brookwood, Emma Geaney of Parkview, Kelly Ann Sutterfield of Blessed Trinity, Simone Rojas of Evans, Kyra Andrews of Norcross, Isabel Yonas of South Forsyth, Clara Heppner of North Atlanta, Cara Joyce of Atlanta International School, and Mary Parrish Green of Lovett.

Girls' Team:  All Things Catholic Come in Threes

The Holy Trinity.  Three of the team favorites are all Atlanta-area Catholic schools.  The front runner on paper seems to be Marist as they have the stud in Little and the 2-5 spread necessary in a field like this to get it done.  They handily won Wingfoot scoring under 100 points in a competitive field and followed it up with a win at Wendy's.  Perhaps most telling was the upward trending of this team as their 1-5 gap was under 2 minutes with their 2-3-4 (Kate Selover, Nicole Pizzo, and Johna Grisik) within 36s of each other.  If they can stay that close on Saturday, they could stamp themselves as the #1 team in Georgia.  St. Pius X, still down their true #1, has also put together a strong season.  Led by new #1 Von Biberstein, SPX took 12th place at Great American and were 4th at Wingfoot.  Jessica Sheehan's sub 20 along with a devastating 3-4-5 punch in Ella Stone, Margot Humphrey, and Lane Boyle created trouble for others trying to hang with the Golden Lions.  Blessed Trinity, when on and full strength, are very dangerous.  To open up their season, they put 3 under 19:00 at Bob Blastow.  They've been missing a girl or 2 here and there, but if they're 100% healthy on Saturday, can they put it together?  Pace Academy is the most obvious threat to disrupt Saturday's communion.  Led by individual threat Caroline Hood, Pace took 3rd at Wingfoot (just in front of Pius) and were 2nd place at ASICS.  The ever-important 5th runner could be a difference maker for Pace though as she was over a minute behind #4 at ASICS.  At a fast course, if that gap shrinks, Pace could end up on top.  Hillgrove and Marietta look to continue their rivalry as they go back and forth atop the 7A rankings.  Marietta has more stud power with Kristal McQueen, Maddie Jones, and Nora Hart ranking high but will need their 4-5 to step up in a dense field.  Hillgrove on the other hand packs up well.  Their top 5 of Ava Brooks, Reese Terza, Gabriela Osornio, Kaeleigh Brooks, and Meghan Flanagan are all split within a minute (based on season bests).  This could be deadly for other teams looking to stay close.  North Atlanta is sort of a 'new kid on the block' as they finished only 16 points behind Pace Academy at ASICS, and when at full strength, they could be just as good as any.  The duo of Clara Heppner and Catherine Townsend lead the way with Heidi Heppner not too far back.  Other teams looking to finish near the top include Pope, Harrison, Decatur, North Gwinnett, Lambert, Westminster, and Roswell.