Stellar Sophomores Suddenly Surge: Unsung Heroes Week 3
What an interesting week of racing! It was a pretty warm week, but the morning temperatures on Saturday were cool for early September and ripe for some good early season running. Four big races dominated the weekend, with the Flying Biscuit Café Invitational (at North Oconee) gathering 21 schools together and the classic Clara Bowl Invitational (at Berry College) pitting 14 schools against each other. The Jekyll Island XC Invitational pitted Decatur against Brookwood on the boys' side (Decatur won by a mere two points), and Brookwood girls dominated to show that they, too, are a serious 7A contender. The AT&T Starr's Mill Panther Meet, though, saw an incredible 37 boys' teams and 25 girls' teams score. Westminster boys and Harrison girls produced statement victories over Auburn HS (from Alabama), who took second in both races. Sophomore Tommy Latham of Marist was the top GA runner in the boys' race at Starr's Mill with a time that ranks fourth overall in meet history! In addition, sophomore Clodagh O'Bryant of North Hall soared to superstar status with a 66-second margin of victory at the Flying Biscuit Invitational. Those performances inspired me to highlight sophomores with this week's Unsung Heroes.
As always, "Unsung Heroes" highlights athletes who have been overlooked or under-recognized while competing at a high level. Three "winners" and five "honorable mentions" will be chosen from the eight GHSA classifications each week for boys and girls. Enjoy!
Emily Hohl, Allatoona (6A): 20:58.58 at Kennesaw State XC Invitational, 6th
The Kennesaw State Invitational, a new meet for high school runners, featured six boys' and girls' teams of all sizes battling it out at Noonday Creek Park in Marietta. On the boys' side, Joe Sapone made his season debut and led Holy Innocents' to a team victory. On the girls' side, there was a great individual race towards the front and Emily Hohl of Allatoona ended up with a lifetime best of 20:58. That is a fantastic result on a medium-difficulty course. In fact, Hohl has established herself as the second runner on a pretty strong Allatoona squad that features five seniors in their top seven. Hohl finished only three seconds behind Pickens County's Bekah Wise, a serious contender to win the 3A title. After a decent freshman campaign, Hohl has already shown great improvement in her second season, which she'll need to keep pace in a 6A classification that has also become much stronger.
Adelaide Ellis, Athens Academy (2A): 21:44.38 at Flying Biscuit Café Invitational, 10th
As a freshman, Ellis steadily improved throughout the XC season, starting out running above 25:00 and ending the season in the low 22:00 range. Unfortunately, she did not run in the state meet and Athens Academy finished fifth. Her second season could not have started better as she set a PR in her very first 5k of season at the NEGA championships. She followed that up with a third place finish at the North Georgia Championships to lead Athens Academy to a first-place finish. In her most recent performance, Ellis finished tenth at the Flying Biscuit Café Invitational against top competition. Ellis and fellow sophomore Spartan Maya Davis have made Athens Academy the early-season co-favorites for the 2A state title along with Savannah Arts.
Flora Tyler, Atlanta Classical Academy (1A-DII): 22:17.98 at Berry Clara Bowl Invitational, 27th
Most of the top teams from the old 1A Public classification have moved to other classifications, which left relatively unfamiliar faces at the top of the rankings for 1A-DII. Flora Tyler is one of the few familiar faces from last season who is back, and she has meant business so far this season. She finished 32nd at the very tough Kosh Klassic, and this week she did even better at the Berry Clara Bowl Invitational. Tyler's finish would have cracked the top seven for any of the teams participating, and it was only a mere three seconds off of her lifetime best. This time not only ranks Tyler as the top sophomore in the division, but also as the top overall runner so far. Along with a solid supporting cast, Atlanta Classical is the team to beat in 1A-DII.
Girls Honorable Mention
Tessa Aten, Harrison (7A): 20:29.13 at AT&T Starr's Mill Panther Meet, 30th
Lauren Tindle, Cambridge (5A): 20:26.28 at North Georgia Championships, 10th
Jessie Dubnik, North Hall (4A): 20:07.52 at Flying Biscuit Café Invitational, 2nd
Brylee Deering, Pickens County (3A): 22:00.10 at Kennesaw State XC Invitational, 13th
Ruby Gordon and Leighton Chally (1A-DI): 21:23.02 and 21:53.42 at AT&T Starr's Mill Panther Meet, 50th and 66th
Jackson Hogsed, Lambert (7A): 16:19.94 at Berry Clara Bowl Invitational, 5th
All four of the runners who finished ahead of Hogsed at the Clara Bowl Invitational had PRs better than 16:13 entering the 2022 season. Hogsed's best XC race before this one was a 16:32 at Coach Wood last year. He blew by that time at the more difficult Berry College course and continued an upward trajectory from a great freshman campaign. In fact, Lambert poured in five runners in the top ten of the race. With a mere 51-second 1 through 5 split, Lambert appears to be the main competition for Carrollton in 7A in the early goings this season, although most of the top teams haven't raced each other yet. Hogsed will be key for the Longhorns, and if he continues improving, he might be one of the best runners in 7A.
Clark Thompson, McIntosh (5A): 17:24.56 at AT&T Starr's Mill Panther Meet, 65th
For some reason, McIntosh boys ran in Race 3 back at Bob Blastow, where they placed five runners in the top six. However, they didn't shy away from the competition at Starr's Mill and mixed it up with some of Georgia's best squads, ultimately placing 11th out of 37 teams (and not too far out of seventh). Thompson was the Chiefs' fifth runner at Bob Blastow but third at Starr's Mill with a 40-second season's best of 17:24. This time was an improvement by over a minute from his time at the same meet last year. The performance was also enough to rank him fourth in all of 5A among sophomores so far this year. Thompson didn't make it out of region in the 800 or 1600 in track season, but he still had a very strong season with times of 2:04/4:41. He'll be a key piece for McIntosh as they look to contend for a state title.
Eli Walker, Aquinas (1A-DII): 19:06.19 at Bulldog Invitational (SC), 2nd
How about some love for the smaller schools at the smaller meets? Aquinas High School, because of its location in Augusta, runs in more South Carolina meets than Georgia ones, making it easy to forget about them. However, they have looked very strong in the early stages of the season, especially their top duo of Diego Pryor and Eli Walker. Walker has had a very strong season after unfortunately missing the end of last XC season. He threw down an 18:46 in his season debut at SC's Skyhawk Invitational, and this week finished second (in a 102-runner field) to teammate Pryor to help Aquinas win the Bulldog Invitational. In between those two races, he finished fourth in the Private Schools race at the very tough Westside Gardens Invitational, with a time that would have ranked seventh in the GHSA race. Walker is the real deal, and so is Aquinas.
Boys Honorable Mention
Zachary Porter, Alexander (6A): 17:38.79 at Berry Clara Bowl Invitational, 20th
John Dodson, Benedictine Military (4A): 17:55 at Frazier-Hite Invitational, 2nd
Nate Harris(hart, Hart County (3A): 18:18.37 at Flying Biscuit Cafe Invitational, 24th
Nicolas Hicks, Providence Christian (2A): 18:16.77 at Run at the Rock, 8th
Matt Walton-Scott, Paideia (1A-DI): 16:59.28 at AT&T Starr's Mill Panther Meet, 34th