Pickens Preview Varsity Boys race featured Harrinson's star freshmen
Freshman Phenoms Taking Flight: Unsung Heroes Week 1
A new season of XC is here at last! A lot has changed since the 2021 season ended. On the boys' side, eight of the top 10 runners last year by PR have graduated since our most recent Unsung Heroes. However, it's the opposite for the girls' side, as eight of the top 10 return for at least one more season of high school running, which means there will be a lot of firepower up front-and that's not even taking into account the breakout stars who will be sure to emerge. GHSA's biannual reclassification has shaken up the team picture as well for the GHSA state meet, in some cases pitting defending champions against each other like in 7A boys, 6A girls, 4A boys and girls, and 1A Division I boys. However, this column is not about those top runners or the top teams. Instead, we highlight athletes or teams that have been overlooked or under-recognized despite stellar achievements. Three "winners" and five "honorable mentions" will be chosen from the eight GHSA classifications each week for boys and girls. This week, the focus will be on freshmen who excelled in their first races of high school cross country competition. I also would like to put in a disclaimer: Bleckley County's Ella Gibbs, Oconee County's Aaron Brodrick, and Creekview's Malachi Burnett ran so well this past week that I felt they deserved to be recognized in a different spot. With that out of the way, let's meet the Unsung Heroes for Week 1!
Look, Marietta are the defending 7A state champions. They return their entire top five from last year's squad. The last thing their opponents want to see is a star freshman. However, it does appear that Marietta had a need for a sixth runner, and Nesmith could be that and more in her first season as a Blue Devil. She won the JV race at Pickens Preview against top JV competition in a very good time of 20:29.70, which puts her not too far off the top five pack. She won the race by over 15 seconds, and interestingly four of the top five finishers in the JV race were freshmen. Marietta's varsity squad might need Nesmith later in the season as they barely held off Harrison, who saw fellow freshman Haley Primm finish 15th overall.
While we don't have much data for Higgason on MileSplit, she ran at least 6:18/13:40 for Long County Middle School this past spring, which are great times for a middle school runner. She backed it up in her first two races of high school. First, she ran a 22:30 at Peach State Preview on August 13, finishing second overall. She handily won her next race at Long County's own Blue Tide Region Preview, by nearly a minute, improving her PR to 21:40 in the process. She has immediately cemented herself not only as Long County's undisputed top runner, but already one of their fastest runners ever.
Like Higgason, Holbrook made her debut one week earlier than most at the Peach State Preview, running 25:03. In Holbrook's very next race, she skipped past 25 minutes...and 24...and 23, running a 22:59.9 at Patriot Pride to grab 9th place and finish as the top freshman in the race. Holbrook also claimed the impressive distinction as the fastest freshman girl in 2A so far this season. If her rapid improvement continues, Holbrook could climb into the top 10 rankings for 2A!
Girls Honorable Mention
Harrison's Fab Five (7A): 17:07.0 through 18:04.4 at Pickens Preview, 14th through 37th (varsity) and 3rd (JV)
Harrison had some serious firepower to replace after a successful XC campaign that saw them hang on to fifth at the 7A state meet. How does not one, not two, but FIVE freshman contributors sound as a replacement? Together, Harrison's freshmen finished with five of the top six times by freshmen at the Pickens Preview meet. Clint Huggins led the bunch in a very fast time of 17:07, and he was followed by Grayson Swingley, Alex Albano, and Andy Burke in the varsity race, all of whom contributed to a third-place finish for the Bulldogs. Taigen Thomas also showed out in the JV race with a time of 18:04.4, which placed third (out of 308 runners)!
McMurry flew a little under the radar as a middle schooler, even as he put up times of 2:18/5:06/10:56 as he kept finishing second or third in his races. Now that he's leveled up in competition and continuing to finish second, it will be tough to overlook him. Finishing side by side with teammate Preston Ziobro, McMurry placed second by just three seconds at the LCA Invitational. He helped the Lions win their first meet of the season against solid competition. McMurry's future looks very bright as he will help TCS compete in 4A this year, jumping all the way from 1A Private.
Whitefield's XC team was led by a star trio last season with Andrew Rothwell, Taylor Wade, and Peyton Golden leading the charge. Now that Golden has graduated, Whitfield needed someone to take his place, and Mitchell made a case to be that runner at the Kosh Klassic this Saturday. His 18:08.90 was the second-fastest freshman time at the meet, just behind Westminster's Jacob Jacquot. He helped Whitfield secure second place ahead of programs like Pope, Bleckley County, and Walton. Mitchell put up great times in middle school, and the early returns are promising for him competing at a higher level.