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Class 3A State Meet Preview
Westminster boys have won a total of 28 State Cross Country titles dating back to 1962. They have also won the last four 3A state Championships. Westminster Girls have won a total of 33 titles dating back to 1981 and have won the last seven 3A State Meets. The consistency of Coach Tribble and Coach Eubanks to continue to churn out championship caliber teams is truly remarkable and unmatched in the state. On top of that, at least in recent years, they have been ranked among the top teams all class in the state. Something truly remarkable. How do they keep doing it year after year? There are pros and cons to being in this situation. The pro is that you've been here before and done that. The con is there is tremendous pressure for the kids to live up to the history of the program. I know both coaches treat every team as their own unit and maybe that's the key. So here we are only days away from another state meet and Westminster looks poised for yet another sweep of the top podium spot in their classification. Can anybody stop them?
Girls Team Race
Abi Moore could play a crucial role in an upset bid for North Hall. Photo by Alex Burst
Westminster girls are yet again the favorites. But don't hand them the trophy quite yet. There is a path to victory here for North Hall. Everybody likes to talk about how the 5th runner is the most important and wins the race. But I think you'll find more often than not that the winning team has the fastest 3rd runner in the field too. And on paper Westminster does look strong at the 3 spot. But let's not count out Abi Moore from North Hall who finished 5th in this race last year and has a good kick. When you pair that with the potential of Clodagh O'Bryant and Harleigh Smith being good enough to go 1-2 in this race, there is a pathway to victory for the trojans. On top of that, at the four spot North has Makayla Jones who finished one place behind Westminster's Neal Kincheloe at The Alexander/Asics Invitational one month ago. It's true, Westminster has a very strong trio up front as well with Palmer Walstad, Cate Stevens, and Janie Cooper. And the wildcats also have the depth and an advantage in their 5th runner, likely either Ella Wallace or Frazier Braintwain, the latter of which just got a shiny new PR at their region meet. And so it's often smart to bet on the hot hand, but don't count out a giant effort from the North Hall 5th runner. If her teammates can give her a lead through four runners, then all she has to do is keep it close. I'm sure it will be said countless times this weekend that Carrollton is the great equalizer. I wonder if that will continue to be the case in this race and we will see an upset. Other teams fighting for the remaining two podium spots include a mix of old and new faces. Savannah Arts Academy has been knocking on the door in recent years as they've slowly been improving. Will this be the year they finally break through? They are led by Margaret Wade who could prove to be a thorn in the side of the top two teams as the front runners jockey for position and key low sticks. Oconee County has been steady and strong for the last decade plus at this meet. The lady warriors are led by Sydney Matthews and look to bring home some hardware from Carrollton yet again. Mary Persons is looking to prove that you can the job done without front runners. Based on PR their 1-6 pack is separated by only 37 seconds. We've seen teams put together great pack races on this course before. They could certainly do enough damage running as a unit to land themselves on the podium. Other contenders in the top 10 include Cherokee Bluff, White County, Morgan County, Dawson County, and Lumpkin Countyn. Race action kicks off at 11:15 on Friday morning
Girls Individual Race
Clodagh O'Bryant has the top time coming in, but is she the favorite? Photo by Alex Burst
his is one of the most intriguing matchups of the weekend. Clodagh O'Bryant comes in with the fastest PR and the only sub 19:00 showing on the season. But she's by no means a lock as it's more complicated than just looking at PR's.
Palmer Walstad actually beat her handily the only time they met this year at the Asics Invitational. So we've seen this matchup before right? The seasoned veteran Walstad takes down the stud Freshman O'Bryant because she knows the course better. Or the Freshman is just better at handling the nerves as she's got nothing to lose and just goes for it from the gun and Walstad can't keep up. One of those two things will happen, done deal.
But not so fast. Enter Margaret Wade who doesn't come to as many of the big meets and is probably just hoping that her name gets left off of the meet preview so she can strike and shock the state. I see you Ms. Wade. You can't hide when you put up a sub 20:00 on the state course in early September, beating Walstad in the process. This is at least a three girl race and you're ready to go with lots of experience winning races this year as Ortho was the only loss. It's anybody's race now and It should be very exciting. After these top 3 are the aforementioned Smith, Stevens, Cooper, and Moore fighting for precious team points. Don't be surprised to see all four in the top 10. Not running for one of the top 2 team favorites, both Lyric Olson from Savannah Arts and Adison Myers from Cherokee Bluff have dipped under 20:00 this year and should be in the mix.
Sydney Matthews is another seasoned veteran back for one more run as a senior after placing 20th, 17th, and 7th in her last three state meets. Don't be surprised to see the senior leave it all out there and beat some "faster" girls than her. Other girls not mentioned yet who could find themselves on the podium include Hayden Hand (Dawson), Ava Coffey (Savannah Arts), and Emma Champer (Oconee). I'm looking forward to seeing this one in person!
Boys Team RaceUnlike the girls who have a little bit of uncertainty surrounding the team battle, the boys team champion might be a done deal already. Westminster has the individual favorite with Matthew Fernando and they have the depth to maybe put 5 or more in the top 10. It'll be close to impossible for anybody to pull off the upset of such a strong Wildcat Offense but there are teams who may try. I've seen bigger upsets before, including a big one in the 4A race last year. Anything can happen at state. Oconee County appears to be the main team with a chance at this. They are led by Scott Seuser, Cooper Timberman, and Urban Pichetto who are all very close to the Westminster 2-5 pack. If they can do something like go 2-3-4 in this race it might do enough damage early to make Westminster sweat it out. All it takes is a slight off day by somebody at Westminster to open the door as this is a fairly tightly packed race with not much room for error by anybody dreaming big. After that Greater Atlanta Christian, Hart County, Southeast Bulloch, and Cherokee Bluff look like the remaining teams fighting for the last two podium spots. The race kicks off at 10:30 on Friday morning so we will hope for perfect weather and fireworks in the race.
Scott Seuser will have to show up big time to try to help Oconee upset Westminster.
Boys Individual Race
Mathew Fernando is the top returner from a very fast 3A boys race last year. He holds track PR's of 1:52 and 4:14. He ran a 16:07 earlier this year on this course and holds a PR of 15:22, over 30 seconds faster than the next closest competitor. This, finally, is a done deal for the Westminster Senior. Well... If only his closest competitor wasn't Alex Arrambide who, while a sophomore at North Forsyth, scored a monster upset in the 1600m to win the 6-7A region title, easily the deepest region in the state. Now he is at a brand new school and has quietly put together a strong season with multiple wins. It's also often easier to be the hunter than the hunted. This race this year will likely just be a setup for him to win it all next year. But don't be surprised if he pulls off another big upset to add to his legend status.
Noah Chen, Joseph Jacquot, and Jack Ramsey are all from Westminster and all have a shot at placing very high in this race both for themselves and for their team. But again, don't count out the Oconee trio of Seuser, Timberman, and Pichetto. Stephen Clark (West Hall), Sawyer McGinnis (Crisp Co.), Diego Martinez (Hart County), and Ethan Smith (Dawson county) appear the most likely to break up the two team battle and push themselves high into the top 10. This should be a good one.