Georgia XC 4A State Meet Preview: Marist or Jefferson?

The boys 4A race last year provided the best upset of the meet as Chestatee Knocked off Marist. Can history repeat itself or will the War Eagles survive all contenders?

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4A State Meet Preview

Girls Individual

Ruby Little looks to flip the result from last year. Photo by Marc Logan

The girls individual battle looks like it will be one to watch on Friday! On paper it looks like it will come down to a battle between
Ruby Little of Marist and Katherine Law of Jefferson. Both have lifetime PRs under 18 minutes but Little might have the slight advantage breaking that barrier while Law broke the 18 minute barrier in 2020. These two were battled it out at the state meet last year with Law getting the better of Little by 3 seconds, and both of them 20 seconds clear of the rest of the field. I expect the same type of scenario to play out Friday. This race will probably come down to who is feeling better on the hills of Carrollton come Friday morning. 

Katherine Law last year with Little in tow. 

Behind Little and Law, Marist will look to put as much of their top 7 on the podium. The possibility of 5 Marist girls in the top 10 is very real. Little (17:49 PR) is followed by Nicole Pizzo (18:34), Kate Selover (19:06), Johna Grisik (19:07) and Maeve Waddell (19:46). Anything can happen on the hills of Carrollton but motivation of running up front with your teammates will be something hard for other runners to contend with. Another runner looking get herself back on the podium is Bella Brick of Flowery Branch. Brick will look to improve upon her 7th place finish in 2020 and try to break in to the top 5. She has finished no lower than 4th place in every race this season and will look to continue this trend come Friday.

Bella Brick looks to finish off her season strong. Photo by Alex Burst.

Harley Martz from Druid Hills has the credentials to be a top 10, if not top 5, runner. She did not run at State last year but followed up her 2020 cross country season with a 2021 track season to be remembered running 5:10 and 11:10 in the 1600 and 3200 to finish 5th and 3rd respectively at the state track meet. She won the 4A/5A race earlier this season at Asics. She was only 6th at her Region meet that featured 4 Marist girls ahead of her but if Mantz can have a good day, she could easily find herself on the podium. Kiley Powell from Jefferson might be the most motivated girl in the field after finishing 1 spot out of a podium spot in 11th place last year. She broke 12 minutes in the 3200 in track and has a season PR that shows she can compete. Powell will look to help Jefferson put 2 on the podium in the chase for a team trophy. Fayette County teammates Sydney Bohles and Ciara Sulton have had solid seasons after building off a strong 2020 XC season and 2021 track season. Bohles was 17th at last years state cross country race and Sulton was 20th. With 5 of the top graduating from last years race, and the improvement shown over the last year, look for this duo to be up front mixing it up for a podium spot.

Girls Team

Nicole Pizzo is coming on strong and looks to help lead Marist girls to yet another win. Photo by Alex Burst

This year's state meet is shaping up to be a close battle for podium spots and top 10 finishes. Region meets are always hard to gauge as some teams can coast and still qualify while others have to run full tilt. The following preview is written considering Region results but also the entirety of the season, with priority given to second half results. 

The class of the field all season has been the girls from Marist. They are all ranked #1 4A and #1 All Class and have been undefeated against Georgia teams all season. I expect Marist to win in dominating fashion with anywhere from 5 to 7 runners in the top 10 individually. The battle for the three remaining podium spots looks to be between Jefferson, Central, Druid Hills and Flowery Branch. Jefferson has a strong front 2 in Katherine Law, who as mentioned previously will look to challenge for the individual title, and Kiley Powell who will look to break in to the top 10. Central lacks the front runner that Jefferson has but tighter 1-5 pack which has been shown to be important in championship races. Druid Hills has come on strong the second half of the season. They have a front runner in Harley Mantz who will look to finish in the top 10 but what they lack is a strong 4 and 5. If Druid Hills can produce at the 4 and 5 spot, then their podium chances look very good come Friday. Flowery Branch is another team who has been coming on strong the second half of the season. They are similar to Druid Hills in they have a front runner but also lack a strong 4 and 5. Anyone who has been around cross country long enough has seen races won and lost at the 4 and 5 spot. Friday will be a true test of the unsung heroes of the XC team and will likely be deciding factors on the podium spots. Columbus and Southeast Whitfield are the top 2 teams from Region 2 and they look to shake things up not only in the top 10 but potentially in the top 4 podium spots. As we know, Carrollton is Carrollton and anything can happen. These two teams, on paper, appear to be slight behind the previously mentioned teams but these teams are trending up as the season has gone on and if they can click on Friday, anything is possible. Neither team looks to put a runner in the top 10 however, they both have a strong pack. Madison County and North Oconee survived the Region 8 gauntlet where it looks like all 5 teams who scored as a team could be top 10 team potential in Carrollton. Only 11 points separated the 3-5th place teams showing that every place and point matters. Heritage Catoosa joins my final rankings this season after a strong 3rd place finish at Region. A final team I think we could see break into the top 10 is Pickens County. They have been in and out of the top 10 all season and have proven in past years they know how to perform at Carrollton so I would not be surprised to see them in the top 10 come Friday.

Boys Individual

Matthew Schroeder is trying to get a win. Photo by Marc Logan

The boys individual race might look similar to the girls race in that it might come down to a runner from Marist and a runner from Jefferson.
Caden Strickland of Marist and Matthew Schroeder of Jefferson look to be the favorites heading into Friday. These two have raced head-to-head twice this season with Schroeder beating Strickland at the Carrollton Invitational and Strickland beating Schroeder most recently at Coach Wood. With Schroeder getting the best of Strickland on the state course, this might give Schroeder the slight upper hand.

Caden Strickland is trying to win his first state title. Photo by Doug Hague.

Gavin Grater looks to spoil the Jefferson-Marist duo's party. Photo by Alex Burst.

One runner who looks to challenge these two is Garrett Grater of Chestatee. Garrett was 6th overall last year so he has shown he can produce when it matters. He is one of the top returners from last years race and beat both Strickland and Schroeder last year at state. Fellow teammate Gavin Grater is the top returner from last years state meet after finishing 3rd. It looks like he has not had quite as good of a season but if he can find his form on Friday, he has the potential to beat everyone in the field. A dark horse for the individual title is Sage Walker of Druid Hills. He has finished no lower than 2nd place all season, was 11th at state last year and is the Region 6 champion where he beat Strickland head-to-head. Look for Walker to be up front early and if he can hang around after separation slope, he might just find himself atop the podium.

Can Sage Walker pull off the win? Photo by Marc Logan.

The rest of the top 10 looks to be littered with runners from team title hopefuls Marist and Chestatee along with podium contenders Druid Hills. Tommy Latham and Mac Felty both have top 10 potential. Latham and Felty will both be running at the state meet for the first time but if they can control their nerves and run like they have all season, a podium finish is definitely within reach. Parker Ferguson of Central looks to lead his team and finish on the podium as a freshman. He ran his season PR of 16:31 at Bob Blastow and has not broken 17:00 since then, but is fresh off an individual region championship. He is used to running up front and if he can hang with the top pack, he could find himself on the podium in only his first state meet. Isaac Kiefer of Druid Hills was 3rd at the Region 6 meet which also featured Marist so he has shown he can compete with the previously mentioned boys challenging for a top 10 spot. Looking to contribute to a title defense for Chestatee with a top 10 finish is Javier Rebollar and Aaron Retana. Rebollar and Retana were both members of last years state title team with Rebollar finishing in 10th and Retna finishing in 18th. If Chestatee wants to defend last years title, they will need both to challenge for the 10 podium spots. 

Boys Team

Tommy Latham trying to help Marist secure their first boys state title since 2017. Photo by Doug Hague

The boys race is a lot closer than the girls race however, there is a chance we could see the Marist boys join the girls in hoisting the championship trophy and for the first time since 2017. Coach McMurray has had his boys running well this season and if they are clicking on all cylinders come Friday, they will be hard to beat. The state champions from last year are back in the mix and will want to defend their title from 2020. Chestatee has had a strong season and have seemed to be getting better and better each week. Marist and Chestatee are very similar teams. Marist has three potential top 10 finishers in Caden Strickland, Tommy Latham and Mac Felty. Chestatee looks to have four potential top 10 finishers in Garrett Grater, Javier Rebollar, Aaron Retnar and Gavin Grater. And while podium finishers are definitely a good thing, we all know it comes down to where is your #5 runner. Marist has the slight advantage with their #5 15 seconds ahead of Chestatee's number 5. But, Carrollton is the great equalizer which will make this team race one to watch and potentially one of the closest races in all classifications. 

The final two podium spots look to be a battle between Druid Hills and Jefferson. Both have similar team averages. Druid Hills has the better runners up front but Jefferson has the better #5. The race for 3rd will be just as close as the race for 1st. The four podium spots look to be a race between the previously mentioned four teams as those teams have distanced themselves from the rest of the field. Two teams that have gotten better as the season has progressed are Pickens County and Flowery Branch. These two teams have distanced themselves from the 7th place and lower teams but, on paper, do not look to have the firepower to contend with the top 4. I expect these two teams to be battling it out for 5th place with it being a very close race. Pickens County has the advantage of front runners and will look to put 2 in the top 20. However, Flower Branch has the advantage of a better #5 and only a 27 second gap from 1 to 5. Flowery Branch might not put 1 runner in the top 20 but could find themselves putting their 5 in the 20-30s which can put them ahead of Pickens County. 

The final 4 spots in the top 10 are a toss up between Columbus, Southeast Whitfield, Central and Heritage Catoosa. Cedartown was a potential top 10 team but they finished 5th at the Region 8 meet so will not be competing in Carrollton on Friday. If you are keeping up, that is 5 teams from Region 8 that all have top 10 potential. These 4 teams have looked to distance themselves from the 11th place team and below, but the order of these teams in the top 10 is too close to predict. The team that can handle the hills of Carrollton will be the likely team to prevail.