6A State Preview
When the GHSA re-classified earlier this year, it was clear that one of the main consequences was private schools getting bumped up a classification or two. If you were paying attention at the time, there was an easy follow-up question: where would those private schools end up? The answer was, right here in 6A! The three large Catholic schools (Marist, St. Pius X, and Blessed Trinity) are back in the same classification for the first time since 2019, when these teams all congregated in 4A. That season, we had an absolutely epic state meet on the girls' side where 17 of the top 21 runners hailed from one of those three schools. This year, we could be in for another three-team battle, although now the public school competition is much more fierce.
Marist might be Georgia's most successful XC program over the past two decades; in fact, they have only failed to win the state meet four times since 2000. They have a great shot at continuing their run of dominance in 2022 as well. It's hard to beat a team that includes one girl who has run under 17:45 (Ruby Little) and two others who have run under 19:00 (Maeve Waddell and Kate Selover). This team was ranked #3 all-classifications into October. However, Marist's fourth and fifth runners might leave them vulnerable to a team that can, let's say, have six runners capable of dipping under 20:30. A team like that certainly exists in 6A, and its name is Blessed Trinity. The Titans just won Region 7, where they competed against arguably the top two public schools in 6A, Pope and Roswell. London Ray and Claire Petersen are a duo that almost any other school would have a hard time racing against. Blessed Trinity beat Marist's team average at region by one second on the same course (but in different races). So which team is the favorite for the state championship? How about St. Pius?
St. Pius X are nicknamed the Golden Lions, and they certainly have lived up to that name by roaring up the standings toward the end of this season. After a relatively quiet start to the season, St. Pius kicked it up to another level in late September and October. They began with an eighth-place finish at Wingfoot (ahead of Pope) despite missing their #1 runner. A few weeks later, at Coach Wood, St. Pius took down Marist despite having a team average one second slower. At region, St. Pius beat Marist once again (by just four points), led by Hannah Schemmel, Zoe Garcia, and Jessica Sheehan. It was the #4 and #5 runners (Lane Boyle and Maggie White) that made the difference, though, as St. Pius was actually behind Marist after three runners. Could last year's 5A champ, Grace Von Biberstein, finally return from injury for St. Pius in time for the state meet? If so, that would only make the Golden Lions that much more dangerous.
Have I hyped up this team battle enough? Well, the three Catholic powers aren't the only teams competing in this race. As I mentioned earlier, Pope and Roswell have the best chance among the rest of the field of breaking up this top three. Pope finished with a team average of 20:23 at region despite missing their top runner, Addison Adair, who has been out since September. If Adair returns for state, this team will have a great shot at cracking into the top three. Roswell has been a team on the rise this season, but their region performances showed a bit of a gap between them and Pope. Other podium contenders include Sequoyah (20:27 team average to win a tough Region 6) and Creekview (led by individual threat Katelynn Dollar, who is BACK in all caps).
The girls' team race will be epic enough, and it will be difficult to keep an eye on the team battle and the individual battle during the race. Experienced XC fans will be up for the challenge, however, because this race promises to be incredibly interesting. Ruby Little of Marist would be the top-ranked girl in Georgia this year if Margaret Wade hadn't run a 17:37 at Asics. As it stands, Little has won four out of six races this season and run faster than 18:20 in all of them. She won the Starr's Mill Panther meet, Warpath, Wingfoot, and Region 4-6A. She's not afraid to break away from the pack early like she did to win the 4A state championship last year.
Creekview's Katelynn Dollar will probably give Little a major run for her money. She ran for independent Lyndon Academy last year, so she will be running her first GHSA XC state meet as a junior. Dollar owns a PR of 17:30 set last year, but she did not race until October this fall. She has gone undefeated through three races so far in 2022, and she'll look to make that a fourth on Saturday.
Behind Little at Region 4-6A featured a handful of runners who will hope to be in the top five at state. Hannah Schemmel of St. Pius is definitely in there, and she actually beat Little at Coach Wood. Claire Shelton of Dunwoody missed some time in the middle of the season after a scorching start, but she still should be a serious threat after three sub-18:50 performances this fall. Alexa Hoppenfeld of Riverwood owns the second-best PR in 6A this season with an 18:02 set at Asics, as well as victories at the Milton Invitational and the Varsity A race of Wingfoot. Kate Selover and Maeve Waddell of Marist, Zoe Garcia and Jessica Sheehan of St. Pius, and Catherine Townsend of North Atlanta could all be top 10 threats from region 4-6A, not to mention Grace Von Biberstein if she runs.
Outside of that stacked region, Blessed Trinity's London Ray and Claire Petersen will look to lead their team to the title. Elizabeth Stamey of Roswell, Josie Hutchinson of Pope (and Addison Adair if healthy), and Brooklyn Crabtree of Alexander could find themselves on the All-State squad with a good race. Honestly, there are about 25 girls who are talented enough to be in the top 10, but that's why we run the race!
While the private schools lead the way on the girls' side, the public schools have struck back for the boys in 6A. The two favorites for the state title are two public powerhouses: North Atlanta and Pope. North Atlanta won the extremely competitive Region 4 meet relatively easily thanks to their Fantastic Four of Sumner Kirsch, Teddy Meredith, Truman Thompson, and Holt Harris. That's three runners who have dipped under 15:40 this season, and four under 16:11. However, North Atlanta has a slight weakness at the #5 position, with Cabell Townsend, Cameron Shapiro, and William Wickstrum taking that spot at different points this season. Pope High School has been the anti-North Atlanta this season: they have possibly the best #5 runner in the state. In every race where Pope has had even a mostly complete squad this season, they have had the top-finishing fifth runner (except for a narrow loss to Carrollton's #5 at Atlanta Classic). By season PR, the Greyhounds have just a 44-second split from top runner Benny Brenneman to fifth runner William Wright. Throw in Davis Drake, and Pope is also competitive with North Atlanta in the alliteration of its runners' names!
Behind North Atlanta and Pope, Marist has the best shot at winning a state title. Marist's 1-5 split is over 2:00, mostly because of top runner Tommy Latham's extremely fast times, but that also hints at a lack of depth that could be harmful in a very strong 6A field. Roswell and Blessed Trinity faced each other at Region 7, and Roswell came out on top. In Region 6, Creekview, Rome, and Etowah all finished within a single point of each other, and Creekview emerged victorious on a 6th-runner tiebreak. Any of those teams could grab a podium spot, although Creekview has the best shot due to its superior depth. However, it should be pointed out that Etowah had the best average time of those three with an impressive 16:44. Meanwhile, Alexander had no trouble winning Region 5 thanks to a strong 2-6 pack.
The 6A boys' race is as competitive as it has ever been. 16 boys have cracked the 16:00 barrier this year. However, just one has broken the 15:00 barrier, and that runner is the sophomore sensation Tommy Latham of Marist. Somewhat amazingly, Latham has won just a single race this season, which was a 34-second victory at region over North Atlanta's Sumner Kirsch (15:29 PR). However, Latham finished in the top three of the other Georgia meets he ran in this season, as well as the top 11 of two out-of-state invitationals. He's the favorite for the 6A championship.
Behind Latham is a host of runners who could compete for runner-up honors. Dru Moore of Etowah owns the next best PR (15:16). Moore finished fourth at Coach Wood and ran a 16:36 at Carrollton Orthopaedic earlier this year. At the latter meet, Moore was beaten by teammate Andrew Balogh, who ran 16:25 and finished third overall. Those two Etowah runners will lead their team's charge for a podium spot. Eli Corn of East Paulding dominated his region meet, but that was nothing new for the senior Raider. Corn has finished in the top three in seven out of eight races this season and finished below 15:45 three times. Tucker Wright of Rome High School gave Dru Moore quite the battle at Region 6, finishing just two seconds back. All five of Wright's 5000-meter races have been under 16:13 this season.
Let's not forget about the other North Atlanta runners, Truman Thompson and Teddy Meredith. They will want to finish as high as possible to give North Atlanta their first-ever boys' XC state championship. Brenneman of Pope will be in the same position. And finally, Creekview freshman Malachi Burnett, who recently owned GA's all-time freshman 5K record (until Oconee County's Aaron Brodrick passed him by one second a week later), will be looking for a statement to cap his incredible season.