3A State Preview: Wesleyan And Oconee County Out Front

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3A State Preview

Girls Team

Can Wesleyan hold on for their third straight XC title? The last two came in 1A Private, so it's been a step up in competition in 3A on paper, although that hasn't stopped Wesleyan from a dominant season this year. At the beginning of the season, I predicted that Wesleyan would be too deep for the field to catch them, and that has played out very favorably for the Wolves. In fact, eight Wesleyan runners have broken 21:00 this season, and just 19 other 3A runners can say the same thing. Of course, it's the top five that matter the most for scoring, and Wesleyan has a few runners who will be among the top 10 individual contenders, especially Eva Murphy and Julie Anne Bush. However, a perplexing showing at Region 7 showed that Wesleyan has some weaknesses with consistency, so they will need to back up their status as favorites with a good showing at Carrollton. After all, these previews won't count for anything come Saturday. 

Oconee County has the best chance to upset Wesleyan, and that would mean taking home their first-ever state championship. Oconee was much more convincing than Wesleyan at region, taking six of the top eight spots. Molly Meeks is the #1 runner for the Warriors, and she has a chance at taking home the individual title. The experience of this squad (only juniors and seniors in the top six), as well as a tight 2-5 gap, will help Oconee County in their quest for the championship. 

Columbus wants to know why it has not been mentioned yet. I have no way of proving this, but this team might be the first-ever Georgia team to win four meets with a perfect 15-point score in a single season. They also have raced against top competition a few times this season, so they have had a healthy mix of smaller and larger meets. Way back at the Carrollton Orthopaedic Invitational, Columbus won the small school meet by over 70 points, beating Dawson County and Bremen easily. Freshman Gabby Ware leads the Blue Devils, and Columbus has the type of 1-7 depth that can help them withstand an off day from one of their top five. 

Mary Persons is another podium favorite due to their depth, but they lack a front-runner that would be needed to finish in the top two. On the other hand, Pickens County has two top-tier runners in Kaela Kearney and Bekah Wise, but they need to improve their depth to move any higher than fourth. Dawson County had one of the most impressive region meets in 3A, as they were only 16 points from knocking off Wesleyan. Other teams that could end up in the top seven with a good race on Saturday include White County, Bremen, and St. Vincent's Academy

Girls Individual

Most classifications feature either one, two, or possibly three favorites to capture the individual first-place medal. 3A might have ten runners who have a legitimate shot in one of the most wide-open races in recent memory. All ten of the runners listed below have a season PR between 19:55 and 20:15. 

Eva Murphy has been Wesleyan's front runner all season, but in most races teammate Julie Anne Bush is only a few strides behind. Bekah Wise and Kaela Kearney of Pickens County have traded places throughout the season, but both have run below 21:00 in five straight races. Gabby Ware of Columbus has the best PR of the bunch and has won four races (all small) this season, so she knows how to front run. Nealeigh Broadwell of White County has been consistently great all season with five races between 20:00 and 20:31. Layla Melton just had her best race of the season by defeating all the Oconee County runners at Region 8, including Molly Meeks, who was just four seconds behind. Finally, freshman Macey Higgason of Long County is the most unpredictable of these contenders since she has raced in South Georgia all season long, but she's finished in the top four of seven out of eight races this season. 

Boys Team

When I wrote the preseason preview for 3A back in August, I thought 3A boys might be the most wide-open of any classification. Insert Oconee County posting the Michael Jordan meme: "And I took that personally." Instead of being the most competitive, 3A might have the largest favorite of any classification in Oconee County. This is a team that has been right on the cusp of a state title, year in and year out, for over a decade now, without a single championship to show for it. All of their close calls may finally result in a state championship for these Warriors, who have exceeded every expectation so far this season. Let's not declare them champions yet-they must still earn it at the great equalizer, Carrollton. However, Aaron Brodrick and Cooper Timberman are two of the fastest runners in 3A, and four more Oconee runners have broken 17:20 this season. This squad has set the tone for 3A all season long, and another team is going to have to show some serious grit if they are going to take down the Watkinsville Warriors. 

The best challenger to Oconee County at state will likely come from Region 7. Wesleyan followed the lead of their girls' team and took first place, but it was close among the top four teams: just 20 points separated first from fourth. Wood Moore gives Wesleyan some oomph up front, and they have an experienced team behind him. Pickens County placed second at Region 7, just nine points back. The top three for Pickens can carry them pretty far, and senior Noah Jones showed that he shouldn't be counted out of a top five spot at state. Dawson County and Lumpkin County rounded out that region. Lumpkin relies on its front duo of Ben Sherrill and Wyatt Windham, while Dawson County features one of the tightest 1-5 splits in 3A, and definitely the narrowest gap between 1 and 7. Meanwhile south of Atlanta, Pike County was busy at Region 2 putting up a perfect score of 15. They have a good mix of front running and depth. Bremen and Columbus are two other region champs who could finish in the top five. 

Boys Individual

The 3A boys individual race has a heavy favorite, just like the team race. Freshman Aaron Brodrick just set the state record for freshmen with his 15:30.99 at Coach Wood, his second race of the season under 15:40. In fact, Brodrick's slowest time of the season was a 16:37 at Carrollton Orthopaedic, and I have a feeling that time would win 3A if he could replicate it on Saturday. The biggest threat to Brodrick likely will come from his own teammate, Cooper Timberman. Timberman finished just 16th at state last year, but he lowered his PR by nearly a minute as a junior. He also broke 17:00 at Carrollton Ortho and finished side by side with Brodrick at Region 8.

John Ryan of Savannah Country Day will try to break up the Oconee County party. Ryan is likely one of only two boys in Georgia to escape the regular season completely undefeated, and he ran at some pretty big meets, too. Ryan won the Small School race at Carrollton Ortho, and he also won the Frazier-Hite Invitational that featured 21 schools. Ryan's PR of 16:17 came at region, where he won by over a minute. Ben Sherrill and Wyatt Windham of Lumpkin County could also break into the top five with great seasons. LaFayette's Tucker Henderson, like John Ryan, has been running in the front of races all season long, finishing no worse than third in any race so far this year. Xander Potter of Pike Co and Sawyer McGinnis of Crisp Co are two region champs who will be eager to prove themselves against the top runners in 3A. Oconee's Patterson Graham, Pickens's Noah Jones, and Wesleyan's Wood Moore will be jostling for team positions and hoping to snag a top-10 finish. And don't count out Sam Wingfield of Morgan County, who won his region by almost two and a half minutes in 16:48.