Georgia XC 7A Boys State Meet Preview: Can MC Baby Bring It?

The 7A boys race last year was dominated by Kamari Miller. Now that he graduated, who will take over?

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2021 7A State Championships Preview - Boys

Foreword: Thankfully, this season has gone far more "normally" than last year. Things like meet limitations, mandatory screenings, and practice participation restrictions have seemingly come to pass. Regardless of a season's normalcy though, Carrollton produces drama. The hills prove time and time again to be the great equalizer, and COVID or not, the hills remain. Let's get to it!

Boys Team

Mill Creek at Starrs Mill. Photo by Marc Logan

Mill CreekSeason Rankings (oldest to newest): 1, 1, 1, 1, 1

Since the very beginning, "MC Baby" has claimed the top spot in the 7A Boys rankings (and for good reason, too). Mill Creek has gone undefeated against all Georgia competition this season and have shown no signs of fading or slowing down. Big wins this season include Region, Coach Wood, and ASICS. Led by senior Ethan Nordman, Mill Creek's dominance is in thanks to a strong pack of runners with the likes of Jacob Peters, Luke Kalarickal, Shahzeb Rashid, Joseph Kim, and Will Ort all in a nice clump. Eli Griggs was 10th overall at Region as this squad's 7th man... that may tell you all you need to know. They appear to possess a bit of an X-factor. They race with a "try to match my will" type of attitude, and if they show up with that sort of intensity on Saturday, they will be hoisting up their second State Championship trophy in Mill Creek history.

HarrisonSeason Rankings: 8, 5, 6, 5, 2

The Hoyas, for the most part, have been trending "up" since the start of the year and really turned some heads with the surprise upset of Marietta at Region. Last year's State runners-up don't want to hear anything about Mill Creek's "crowning moment". For a team to lose their entire top 3 and return as a contender is impressive, and they put themselves squarely in the game last week. They got a little lost in the shuffle at Coach Wood (taking 11th and finishing 100+ points behind Marietta) but came back with a vengeance to win Region. Their top 5 of Andrew Cole, Mark Ravenscraft, Kaden McVey, Bryce Brownlee, and Sterling Sellier boasted a 32 second split which is impressive. On paper, when both on, Mill Creek seems to be able to beat them at every spot, but if Harrison catches fire at the right time? It's not out of the question to see the Hoyas reign supreme.

MariettaSeason Rankings: 2, 2, 2, 2, 3

The defending State Champions have been in the picture the entire season. They've consistently been a squad to take seriously. The race that shows me that Marietta can win the State Championship for the second straight year, though, is their performance at Great American. They were 9th in a stacked field and only 40 points behind 4th place. Their top 5 went as follows: James May (15:16), Jared Fortenberry (15:54), Hines Doyle (16:26), Jack Baltz (16:43), and Cade Mayfield (16:46). Their team average? 16:13. Mill Creek's team average at Coach Wood? 16:10. It doesn't appear Marietta is quite strong enough at 4 and 5 to match Mill Creek (or Harrison's) 4 and 5 when all three teams are at 100%, but if the Great American Marietta shows up at State, this could be another Blue Devils performance to remember. They are no stranger to the big time, and you have to believe that Black Jack Coleman will have his team swing for it with nothing to lose.

DenmarkSeason Rankings: NR, 6, 4, 6, 4

No longer the "new kid on the block", Denmark took a 4th place podium slot in their first ever year in 7A. Pretty dang impressive. They enter the week of State ranked 4th after downing both West Forsyth and Lambert, 2 teams clearly ahead of them all season, at their Region Championships to take the crown. Stud and individual favorite Ethan Ashley didn't even race until mid-September though, clearly showing that State could just be the beginning of what he's trying to accomplish this season. Either way, where the Danes need help is at 5. The gap has shrunk as the season has progressed, but it was still 35 seconds from 4 to 5 at Region. In the mid-17 minute range at State, that's a ton of points. Tavian Anderson, Xavier Anderson, and Ethan Bridge will need to do a lot of work up top to supplement the point differential.

West ForsythSeason Rankings: 4, 4, 3, 3, 5

West has been a threat throughout the 2021 campaign, and while they did suffer a bit of a hiccup at Region, this team is squarely still in the ball game. While Marietta's keynote meet was Great American, West Forsyth's was the Southern Showcase. They took 6th overall (and beat Harrison head to head) and almost had their 1-5 in under a minute from each other. Trent Bell has led this squad all season, but teammates Diego Fernandes and Charlie Cavanaugh have shown out pretty well at moments, too. Is West strong enough to win the whole thing? It doesn't seem like it, but crazier things have happened, and all they need to do is be "in the business" to have a shot.

LambertSeason Rankings: 5, 8, 8, 4, 6

Tigue's Guys could be one year away from true contention (they only graduate 1 of their top 7 from Region), but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be taken seriously this year. They've kind of been all over the place this season which is to be expected with a young squad. Their best race of the season was easily Coach Wood where they took 6th place and boasted a 16:37 average with their 1-5 finishing within 30 seconds of each other. Reid Latimer and Kushan Patel have swapped top honors late in the season, and both runners (along with the rest of the supporting cast) have their best running days ahead of them. Even so, this State Meet will prove to be valuable meet experience even if they fall a little short of the podium. Don't count them out though; that Coach Wood performance was the 3rd best 7A finish among the men.

RoswellSeason Rankings: 3, 3, 5, 9, 7

The Hornets have put themselves at a level they've not been at recently, and similar to Lambert, they've sort of been all over the place perhaps due to a lack of experience. They came out the gates swinging and looked like a surefire podium contender. While they have faded a little, this team is still talented enough to make a big splash come Saturday. They just won a Region Championship, and while it's not the strongest region, they still put 4 between 16:24 and 16:48. They may not have enough at the top to have a "low stick", but if their entire top 5 all come in pretty high, they'll finish well into the top 10. Keep an eye on Roswell for the next few years as their JV has been strong all season, too.

BrookwoodSeason Rankings: 6, 7, 7, 8, 8

Dehnke's Dudes are in a similar boat to Lambert in that they may be one year away from true contention, but this squad seemingly has had a different number 1 guy routinely this season and has seen their top 7 swap around big time - showcasing perhaps the best depth of any team in 7A. You can only run 7 in Carrollton of course, but this is a young squad with nothing to lose. Their best race of the season appears to be Great American where they averaged 16:35 which got them a top 5 finish in the Seeded race. Jonah Harper, Charlie Thomas, Kingsley Doyle, Marshall Bray, and Carter Dehnke have all run great races at varying times this season, and when you have a squad with this amount of upside, crazy things can happen. It's been a little while since Brookwood finished top 4; could they find their way there again a year early?

East CowetaSeason Rankings: 7, 9, NR, 7, 9

EC seems to be the team that's always lurking yet nobody talks about, and I believe that's a bit unfair. Perhaps it's due to where they are located compared to other 7A powers, but East Coweta is an easy top 10 threat with potential for better. They boast a good 1-2 punch in Houston Hamby and Troy Blackwood, and they do have another in Andrew Helfers who was missing from Region. Where EC runs into trouble is at 4-5, but with how crowded 7A is, if Hamby and Blackwood can be 2 low sticks in the top 20 or so, and Helfers rejoins the cause, then perhaps enough damage can be done up top to propel this crew above their highest ranking of the season (7th).

WaltonSeason Rankings: NR, NR, NR, 10, 10

Rounding out the top 10 here is Walton. They've been well under the radar this season, and that's likely due to the aforementioned Harrison and Marietta in their region. Joseph Minecci, only a sophomore, was the only non Hoya / Blue Devil in the top 10 at Region with his 4th place finish and is squarely in the conversation for a top 15-20 finish at State. He'll need some help from supporters Wylie Bingham and Kenyele Brown to keep Walton in the top 10 with a slew of teams trying to take the spot, but new coach Erin Gallagher has this squad eyeballing a bright future.

Other teams to consider: North Gwinnett, Etowah, Hillgrove, Gainesville, Archer, Milton, Newnan, Parkview, South Forsyth, and Woodstock

Individual Championship Threats

Ethan Ashley at Warpath. Photo by Marc Logan

Ethan Ashley (Denmark)

Well, it's easy to be considered the heavy favorite entering a meet when you haven't lost a race all season... and that's some serious bragging rights for Ashley. Ashley barely missed the coveted sub-15:00 mark at Coach Wood but dominated the field otherwise and has other keynote victories at Carrollton, Warpath, ASICS, and Region. He was 6th at State last year, so he's already got strong experience at this course. Watching this kid race the second half of any race is a treat, so expect him to "use and abuse" at Carrollton.

James May at Carrollton Ortho. Photo by Marc Logan

James May (Marietta)

A big "claim to fame" that May has is that he beat Ashley last year at State, claiming 5th place and entering this year as the top returner. His best race of the season was Great American where he broke 15:20, and while he seems to have lost a step or 2 to some of the other big guns in 7A, May "may" have the highest ceiling in terms of potential given that race this season as well as his State race last season. If anyone is going to challenge Ashley early, I expect it to be James May.

Nate Verska at Pickens Preview. Photo by Marc Logan

Nate Verska (South Forsyth)

Last year's 9th place finisher, Verska has had himself another strong season as evidenced by his 4th place finish at Coach Wood, Region runner up finish (to Ashley) and 4 sub 16:00 races to his credit. Verska has spent the entire season running with and defeating some of the bigger names in 7A, and he's an easy top 5 threat come Saturday.

Ethan Nordman at Gwinnett County. Photo by Alex Burst.

Ethan Nordman (Mill Creek)

Nordman went full beast mode at Region. Mill Creek's stud won the title in a time only 5 seconds slower than his Coach Wood race on a far more difficult course. He was outside the top 10 last year and will look to rectify that this year. He has finished in the top 10 in every race he's run this season, and he's been faced with some stiff competition. He has broken 16:00 all but once this season and should be near the front from the gun on Saturday.

Mile Ferguson at Gwinnett County. Photo by Alex Burst

Miles Ferguson (Archer)

Ferguson has made a huge jump from last year and is squarely in the conversation for a top 5 finish this year. He took 7th at Coach Wood, won the Region 7 Championship, and has finished 5th or better in every race this season besides Wood. Ferguson is a new player in terms of racing at this high of a level, but he's been quite successful, and he may have the best "year to year" improvement when looking at State. He's yet another top 5 threat if close enough early on.

Ben Bergey at Pickens Preview. Photo by Marc Logan

Ben Bergey (South Forsyth)

Bergey avoided what would've been the biggest travesty of Georgia XC by taking 6th at Region and claiming the final individual spot. After opening the season with three straight wins, he really turned some heads by taking 11th overall at the Southern Showcase. He hasn't been quite as strong since, but there's a good upside here for Bergey. You can bet he'll count his blessings and show out big time on Saturday.

Dru Moore at Warpath. Photo by Marc Logan

Dru Moore (Etowah)

The "King of Boling Park", Moore has 3 victories this season - all at Boling Park - and is a surefire top 10 threat at State. Perhaps his most impressive effort though was his second place finish (an 8 second loss to Ethan Ashley) at Warpath... which was also at Boling Park. If Moore can translate this success to the hills of Carrollton, he could find his way into the top 10.

Jared Fortenberry at Carrollton Ortho. Photo by Marc Logan.

Jared Fortenberry (Marietta)

Fortenberry of Marietta features as a strong #2 for a team contending for the title. Fortenberry hasn't been the most consistent this year. He took 21st at Carrollton Ortho only to turn around and take 30th at Great American against far superior competition. His region runner up finish to teammate James May was a great race, and if he can put it together come Saturday, Marietta could be the first team with 2 through.

Trent Bell at Pickens Preview. Photo by Marc Logan

Trent Bell (West Forsyth)

Bell of West Forsyth looked a little shaky early in the season but has bounced back and really started turning it on midseason. His 31st place finish in 15:43 at the Southern Showcase was the first glimpse of what was to come as he followed it with a 1st place finish at Pickens and a 3rd place finish at Region (only behind Ashley and Verska). He's another athlete somewhat new to the top echelon of 7A, but he's shown signs of really being able to mix it up with some of the best when tasked to do so.

Andrew Cole at Starrs Mill. Photo by Marc Logan

Andrew Cole (Harrison)

Harrison's Cole rounds out the top 10 individual preview thanks to his 3rd place finish at Region (only behind the Marietta duo) and his top 20 finish at Wingfoot. There are a plethora of athletes around Cole's level though, and I see this race as fairly top heavy but after about 6th or 7th place, 15-20 different athletes could slide in - Cole being one of them. With Harrison as a team threat, they'll need Cole to finish near the top.

Other athletes to keep an eye on include: Troy Blackwood(East Coweta), Houston Hamby(East Coweta), Andrew Helfers if racing (East Coweta), Jake Peters and Luke Kalarickal (Mill Creek), Dillon Watson (Woodstock), Christian Jimenez (Roswell), Yianni Pothoulakis (North Gwinnett), Steven McCartney (Archer), and Caden Hall (Parkview).