1A-D1 State Preview: Whitefield & Paideia Set To Battle

1A-DI State Preview


Who Will Win the Georgia 1A-d1 Girls Team Title?

Girls Team

Lest we forget, this is the first season that 1A was broken into divisions based on size rather than public/private classifications. Because of that, we will see many teams competing against new rivals this year at the 1A Division 1 state meet. Bleckley County is the favorite at the state meet, although not quite as strong favorites as they were at the start of the season. They are led by freshman Ella Gibbs and senior Tristen Crosby, who will both be strong contenders to finish in the top five. The rest of their top seven is quite solid as well, which was shown at their region meet where the seventh Bleckley County runner finished almost three minutes ahead of the top runner from any of the four other schools.

The Royals have two top contenders that they will need to beat to hoist the trophy: Paideia and Armuchee. Paideia finished with a comfortable victory at the most competitive region in the state. Paideia boasts a 1-5 split of under 2:00, which is something almost no other 1A-DI school can say. They also have a good mix of experienced and young runners, led by senior Megan Walter. They also have experience running against good teams from higher classifications all season long. Armuchee will have a chance in any race because of their top two runners, Shelby Green and Marissa Kimple, who may be two of the five fastest runners in all of GA. Armuchee also packs it in from 3-7, but the problem is that their 3-7 pack may be about four minutes back from their top two. That gap will need to narrow at state for Armuchee to have any chance for the victory on Friday.

The rest of the podium contenders feature a good mix of teams coming from 1A Public, 1A Private, and 2A. Whitefield has a very strong team, but they were missing a few runners at region. If they are whole at state, they may find themselves in the top 3 or 4. Oglethorpe County has also put together a fantastic season. They actually beat Paideia back at the Jefferson Invitational in early October and boast a top-five contender in Sydnie Henderson. Mount Vernon, another contender, topped Whitefield at region and X-factor Kennedy Reynolds has run very well in her two races this season. Prince Avenue Christian, Athens Christian, and Barrow Arts & Sciences also have the quality to finish in the top five if they have a good race at state.


Who Will Win the Georgia 1A-d1 Girls Individual Title?


Girls Individual

What happens when an unstoppable force meets... another unstoppable force? That's what we may find out on November 4 when Armuchee's Shelby Green and Bleckley County's Ella Gibbs will clash for the first time. Green was a 1A Public state champion as a sophomore and was runner-up last year, but she took it to a new level this season. She earned victories at Carrollton Orthopaedic (small school race), Ridge Ferry, and Coach Wood, among others, this year. Her only loss to another GA runner this regular season came against Margaret Wade at Asics where Green ran a 17:49. Gibbs has a season best of "only" 19:27, but don't let that fool you. In her first XC race as a high-schooler, Gibbs set a meet record at the very difficult Kosh Klassic course, beating 4A state hopeful Clodagh O'Bryant by more than 30 seconds. She didn't run in GA again until the end of September, and since then she has only raced at Bleckley County's very challenging home course, winning four straight races. That means Gibbs is undefeated against GA competition this season (excepting a loss to teammate Tristen Crosby in Florida in early September).

Other runners will certainly be in the mix with Green and Gibbs. Green's teammate Marissa Kimple is the reigning 1A Public state champion and owns a PR of sub-18:00. She has been just behind Green all season long, and it's been fantastic to see two teammates pushing each other so effectively. Could Kimple flip this season's script and take first place? Coosa's  Sophia Cook is also a runner to keep an eye on. Cook owns a season best of 18:43 and would be the favorite in a number of classifications this year. In fact, she has only lost to a total of six different runners in seven races this season.

There may be a gap behind these top four runners at state, but the rest of the top 10 is wide open. Bleckley's Tristen Crosby owns the next best season PR. The Region 6 quartet of Lillian Glass (AIS), Kennedy Reynolds (Mount Vernon), Megan Walter (Paideia), and Ellie Plunkett (Mount Pisgah) are pretty close on paper, with Glass getting the upper hand at region. Oglethorpe County's Sydnie Henderson and Darlington's Kate Scott could find themselves in the top 10 at state as well. Ansley Moore and McKinley Smith of Athens Christian, Alishia Cook of Coosa, and Colbie Ramsey of Jasper County are all super freshmen who will get a chance to shake things up for their teams.


Who Will Win the Georgia 1A-d1 Boys Team Title?

Boys Team Preview

The 1A Division 1 boys' meet will be the ultimate showdown between two teams that have traded blows all season long. Which one will land the final knockout at state? Paideia is the first team that has a great chance at the state championship this year. Their runners are gunning for their first title in team history. The Pythons have finished third (in 1A Private) the last three years in a row, but they are hungry for more this year. Their strength is one of the tightest 1-5 splits in the state. Going off of season PR, just 13 seconds separates their first and fifth runners, which means they don't really have a single "top runner." Sophomore brothers Ben and Matt Walton-Scott have been very impressive this season and exemplified the Paideia improvement. Juniors Owen Tobias and Krish Leveille have had big seasons as well, and Raja Hofmeister rounds out the top five cluster. Paideia's main competition at Carrollton will be their region rivals Whitefield Academy, the defending 1A Private state champions. The Wolfpack began the season as heavy favorites but star junior Andrew Rothwell went down in late September, meaning another runner would need to step up to replace Rothwell's production. Three freshmen, led by Bo Mitchell, now feature in Whitefield's top seven. Taylor Wade is one of the top individual threats and should provide an advantage against Paideia at the top. If the back of Whitefield's top five, including junior Ryan Walker, can continue their end-of-season improvement, Whitefield could earn their second consecutive (and second ever) state championship. Nothing was decided at region, as the two teams tied, and Whitefield edged out the victory on a 6th runner tiebreak while missing their #3 runner. It couldn't be closer heading into state.

Behind Whitefield and Paideia, four teams have a decent shot at a podium finish. Armuchee is the defending 1A Public champion and it is even stronger this year than last. Ben Owens, Trace Harris, Matthew Campbell, Sam Lindley, and Landon England all return from that state champion team. Their top five also has a tight split. Armuchee topped Darlington at Region 7. Darlington is led by top ten contender Grant Cross and has a solid 2-3 punch, but their #4-5 runners need to have fast races to catch the teams above them. Athens Christian has been one of the most pleasant surprises in 1A Div 1 this year and are led by low stick Nathan Smith. Finally, Bleckley County has been difficult to read this year since they refuse to run fast courses, but they should be well prepared for the hills of Carrollton after sweeping the top five spots at their region meet. Mount Vernon, Barrow, and Heard County round out the teams that could snatch a top six spot.  



Who Will Win the Georgia 1A-d1 Boys Individual Title?

Boys Individual

For any fans of XC without any rooting interest, the individual battle for 1A Division 1 for both girls and boys will be intense to watch. On the boys' side, there will be a three-way battle for the title featuring potentially three of the state's top ten runners. All three will be racing for contending teams as well. The first challenger is Athens Christian's Nathan Smith. He owns a season best of 15:35 at Warpath, but he's also run sub-15:50 in two other races and a 16:02 at Jekyll Island. Outside of those four races, Smith has gone completely undefeated, and he won his region meet by over 100 seconds. Next up we have Bleckley County's Luke Churchwell. Churchwell began the season as perhaps the state's fastest runner in August and early September, winning the Kosh Klassic and Carrollton Orthopaedic Invitational. After a two-mile in 9:59 at the Bleckley County Night Race, Churchwell missed nearly all of October, but he returned to dominate his region meet. Finally, Taylor Wade rounds out the contenders. He owns the top PR in the classification at 15:15. He finished just behind Churchwell at Kosh and Carrollton but got his revenge at Wingfoot. He also finished fifth overall at Coach Wood in 15:17. This individual battle reminds me of the 2019 1A Private race where Graham Blanks took advantage of the cool temperatures to set a course record in the first race of the day. This race kicks off at 9:00 AM on Friday-the first race of the day.

Outside of the top three runners, it will be anyone's guess who rounds out the top 10 and in what order. Heard County holds the next two spots by season PR with Rowdie Epps and Timothy Skipper, both of whom set their PRs at Asics. Michael Lynch of Mount Pisgah has also had a sweet season, finishing in the top three of all races that he has run. Mount Vernon's Harris Flynn and Darlington's Grant Cross should be considered top 10 contenders also. Don't forget about whoever ends up at the front of either the Paideia pack or the Armuchee pack. Armuchee has Trace Harris, the defending 1A Public state champion, and Ben Owens, who owns a season best of 16:20. Dylan Dixon of Bacon County also deserves a shout-out since he won his region meet by over three minutes and has a 16:50 PR.