This year will be the 15th anniversary of the Georgia Middle School State Cross Country Championships hosted by Bleckley County HS. I am missing the five years not listed on MileSplit, but from the other years, Marist has the most State Championships with 10, closely followed by Holy Innocents with 9. Five years ago they started the Grand Championships (best program in the State at that level) and in that competition, Holy Innocents leads with four while Woodland Euhrelee is next with three. Last year, they added a division for club teams (which is composed of any program which has runners from more than one middle school) to give them an avenue to compete as well, a welcome addition which was won by Great Strides and Brookwood Youth.
This year schedule: 8 AM - 5th Grade and Under (free race, no registration required) 8:30 AM - Medium Schools Races (any schools that feed into 3A or 4A) 10 AM - Large School Races (feed into 5A, 6A, or 7A) 12 PM - Small School Races (feed into 1A Public, 1A Private, or 2A) 1:30 PM - Club Races (including unattached runners)
Medium Schools: Boys - Jefferson is two-time State Champion and is registered for the event, but with only 12 hours left to submit entries, they haven't done so yet. If they decide to forgo State, that would be a huge loss for the field. They look to be one of the main competitors to North Hall, who won the inaugural race back in 2006 and are undefeated on the year. This past week, they easily won the Mountain Invitational, making it six straight victories this season while beating one of their main public school rivals in the Medium Schools, West Jackson. Defending State Champions, Lumpkin County, will be here, however, with only two meets under their belts, they will definitely be wildcards in this race.
Girls - Marist girls have won the last four State titles and have only been beaten once in that past decade (Pace Academy broke their streak in 2016). Recently, the Marist girls dominated a competitive Wesleyan meet to show that they have not lost a step. Their main competition, Jefferson, has not submitted entries. Darkhorses include two squads with lots of veteran eighth graders leading the way in East Jackson and Malcom Bridge.
Grand Championship - Jefferson won it last year and could be well positioned to win it again. They are well balanced on each gender and are decently deep. North Hall (Boys) and Marist (Girls) both have a particularly stronger gender, so if the other gender can have a good day, then they also will be very competitive as well.
Girls - This race looks incredibly competitive, but has two favorites. Evans has done no wrong this year, winning all four races this year including being the best middle school by far at the huge Panther Meet. They are coming off a few weeks off, so they should be well rested and ready to go. Cartersville similarly has been the top middle school wherever they have gone, even knocking off some of the better club teams along the way. If there is a weakness on either side, it is the fact that Evans may have no room for error. They are all built on the performance of their top 5 runners with a big drop-off after that. However, it wouldn't shock anyone to see always competitive Dean Rusk pull a shocker with great runs from their top 2 runners. Returning champion, Buford, could be a dark horse because they have not run on any fast courses, which has kept their times inflated. They are a very deep team, that could jump up on a good day. Richmond Hill also is lurking in the shadows, coming from the coastal circuit. They have run well in all of their meets and even have experience at the State course this year. That said, they didn't enter their 4th runner, which will be painful. Taylor Road is a very young squad, but also has a lot of depth. Woodland is a traditional power, although they have been beaten by Cartersville several times this year. It really should be an interesting race.
Boys - On paper, defending State Champion, Taylor Road, looks like the favorite over Cartersville, whom they have already beaten once this year at the Rock. Both teams look incredibly good with more sub-12 runners than the rest of the field combined. Both teams are very deep as well, which will make the JV races extremely fast. Carrollton also has shown some good competitiveness and also has a win over Cartersville at Wingfoot. They have a strong top 5 which are all 6th and 7th graders, making it even more impressive. Like the girls, Richmond Hill is someone one shouldn't take for granted as they have finished runner-up the past two years. They have a very strong Top 3, but it will all come down to their 5th runner. Gray Station has won every race they have been to this year and have a very strong Top 4. Both them and Carrollton may be a bit underrated since they haven't been to a fast 2 mile race yet this year. The race for the podium spots should be very competitive.
Grand - Two teams have the depth to make this competitive. Cartersville looks like the favorite, if only by a nudge. Two-time defending State Grand Champion, Taylor Road, won't give it up easily. Both teams have 14 runners in each gender that could run in the top half of the varsity races on Saturday, and hence will dominate the JV podium. Buford is the other team that could jump up in there as, again, they haven't run in super quick 2 mile races, so their times may appear slower than their abilities.
Boys - Over the past five years, Holy Innocents have dominated the Small School division at the State Championships. Between 2016-2019, they had won 16 out of the possible 20 first place trophies. So, when Covid kept them at home for 2020, that allowed some other schools to take home some first place hardware. They are back this year, and looking pretty strong on the boys side, however there are some other teams that would like to break up their winning spree at State. Whitefield Academy is bringing their varsity boys team to take a crack at the title. They have been very competitive this year, including their strong showing as top middle school at Panther. Athens Academy has had a very strong season and looks to be competitive if they can get a good showing from their 5th runner.
Girls - Holy Innocents was the very competitive at Wingfoot, but will have very stiff competition from two ranked opponents. Home school, Bleckley County trains on this course and has a very powerful top 2. Their number 5 really needs to come up big, but historically have had a lot of success on the girls side, so they develop runners very quickly. Pace Academy has a very strong Top 5 and looks like the favorite. If their top 2 can keep Bleckley's top 2 close, then they could be atop the podium at the end of the day.
Grand - If Holy Innocents brings their full squad, it is hard to see how they can be stopped as most small schools can't throw those types of numbers (89 registered) around. Pace, Bleckley, Perimeter Christian, and Georgia Military College Prep look like ones that will try. Clubs:
Girls - Walton-Pope Youth are the top team from Wingfoot bringing a full contingent. Great Strides was top club at Panther. Defending champions, Brookwood Youth, were the top club at North Georgia Championships. Junior Hoyas have had some success this year as well. Interestingly, the first three have not intermixed too much, but it looks like Great Strides might be the early favorite.
Boys - The Junior Hoyas have been hard to top this season. They have a very strong top 6, winning races like Wingfoot, although just barely over Atlanta Track Club, who are bringing their full squad. ATC won Panther, beating out a competitive defending champs in Great Strides led by a very powerful top 2 runners. However, the Hoyas have beaten both these squads several times this year, so it will be an uphill battle for either win the big prize.
No matter what, it is going to be a special day in Cochran on Saturday. Every big name program in the state has signed up to be down their to win the biggest prizes of the season (and tallest trophies known to mankind). The weather looks warm, but dry, so we should be in store for some great races. It is should be awesome.Final note: Special thanks go to Shelley Cranford and his team at Bleckley County who do a wonderful job hosting the State Championship. Across the day, over 2000 runners in 13 races will give it their all over a challenging course, which is well equipped to handle the masses. 51 team trophies, 24 individual trophies, 326 medals will be handed out over the course of 8 hours on Saturday. All of this is accomplished by a single school, so we very much appreciate the effort it must take to serve our sport in this way. Thank you for your time and dedication to cross country in Georgia.