2023 Marietta Distance Carnival Meet Preview

The water pit for the girls steeplechase at the distance carnival last year

Marietta Distance Carnival Meet Preview

By Coach Jonathan Gambrell

The Marietta Distance Carnival has become the place for distance runners to kick off their season. As with early season meets, it is hard to know exactly what kind of shape athletes are in coming off of winter training. Rather than pick an order of finishing places, this preview will serve as a guide of athletes to watch on Saturday. To make it a little more interesting, I am also going to make a bold prediction about the race based on current entries. These predictions may or may not be correct but will add a new layer to the preview.

*this article was written on Wednesday afternoon so entries could have changed around afterwards*

Girls 1600

Bold Prediction: winner will break 5:00

Now I know that the prediction is kind of crazy but that is why it is called a bold prediction. But after seeing who is entered and what they have run previously, I think you will see the prediction is not as bold as it might sound initially.

The girls 1600 looks to the competitive as usual with 4 girls seeded under 5:10. While these seed times are the PR's of the athletes, its not impossible to see some PR's if these athletes have had a solid winter of training. Clodagh O'Bryant of North Hall is the top seed at 5:01. She has run 2:23 for 800m this season so she looks ready to run something fast this weekend. Freshman phenom, Ella Gibbs of Bleckley County, comes in as the #2 athlete on paper but might be the #1 athlete based on times run this season. Ella ran 2:19 and 5:04 this past weekend at Parkview Distance Kickoff so she should be sharp and ready to roll with similar if not better competition this weekend. The Decatur duo of Gabriella Malerba and Anna Blaich will look to factor into the front of the race with seed times of 5:05 and 5:08 respectively. Gabriella has not race this season while Anna ran 5:22 at Parkview last week. But after finishing 1st and 4th at State in November, expect them to be up front and pushing the pace early. Coming in seeded 5th is the UGA commit from Lambert, Bella Cammarota. Bella has run one race this season, a 1600 in 5:20 where she won by 8 seconds. She will be sharper than others in the race and will look to drastically improve on that time with some tougher competition. Katelynn Dollar from Creekview is seeded 6th at her PR from last year of 5:14. She looks to be in much better shape after running 10:53 back in January at the Crossplex. So while she might be seeded #6 on paper, I fully expect her to be up front pushing for the win. Mary Nesmith of Marietta has not run a track race yet but her freshman cross country season, finishing 3rd at 7A State and running a season PR of 18:23,  shows that she will likely put herself in the front pack and hang on as long as she can. Rounding out the list is Abi Moore of North Hall. Abi ran 2:22 for 800 at Parkview last weekend after running 5:29 in the 1600. While the 1600 time is nothing flashy, her 800 time shows that if she can hang around for a few laps, she has the kick to compete with anyone in the field the last lap. Given the competition mentioned, I think it is possible that we see these girls come through 800m at or under 5:00 pace. The question is who can hang on the second half to potentially break the 5:00 barrier. 

Boys 1600

Bold Prediction: winner will go under 4:15

Looking at the seed times on paper, this might not seem like a bold prediction. But considering it is only February, sub 4:15 becomes a little more bold.

The girls 1600 looks like it could be the race of the meet, until you look at the boys entries. There are currently 5 boys seeded under 4:20. Now we know that those are PR's probably from late last season but still, the potential for a fast time is definitely there. Joe Sapone from Holy Innocents, a UNC commit, is the top seed at 4:11. Sapone is coming off a 1200m time trial of 2:59, which if you did the math is sub 4:00 pace. But only being 3 laps, it is not likely he will hold that pace. But still, he is in shape to run something quick. We all know the kick that Sapone has so the question is will Sapone look to control the race early and run a fast time, or let someone else do the work. Seeded a very close second is Georgia Tech commit, William Carlton of Decatur. He has already ran a speedy 4:20, winning at Parkview this past weekend in a close race with Luke Churchwell, who will be mentioned later in this preview. A little sharper than most, with a race under his belt, look for Carlton to be up front early and often. The 3rd seed is Jared Fortenberry of Marietta. Jared is coming off arguably his best cross country season, finishing runner up at 7A State and a PR of 15:13 at Asics. He has not raced yet this season but will look to defend his home track in what will be his last Distance Carnival. Churchwell might be seeded 4th on paper but could easily walk away with the win on Saturday. He ran 1:59 and 4:21 this past weekend at Parkview and also ran 4:18 at the Crossplex in January, so we know he is fit. He will be looking to avenge his close loss to Carlton from Parkview and use his sub 2:00 800 speed to put the pressure on late. Another runner that cannot be overlooked is Gabriel Best of Whitewater. He has not raced outdoor yet but ran 4:21 and 9:53 at the Crossplex a few weeks ago. The last runner in the preview is Kushan Patel. He ran 2:04 and 4:27 a couple weeks ago but with his 4:21 PR and a strong cross country season, he cannot be overlooked. 

Girls 800

Bold Prediction: winner will run under 2:16

This prediction is probably bold not only for a meet in general but especially for one in February. 

The girls 800 features many of the athletes previously mentioned in the 1600 preview. I will not repeat all of their accolades but athletes that will look to take the victory on Saturday are Gibbs, O'Bryant, Nesmith, Malerba and Moore  who all come in seeded under 2:22. The one athlete who is not mentioned in the 1600 preview, and who is not entered in the 1600 is Maya Davis of Athens Academy who is entered at 2:15. Davis ran 2:17 at the Crossplex in January and followed that up with a 5:03 at the FleetFeet All Comers meet a week ago. The question is, will Davis being fresh in the 800 give her an advantage over all the girls doubling back from the 1600 or will the girls who raced the 1600 be a little more primed and warmed up from their first race. Either way this race will easily go under 2:20. The question is by how much? Davis being the top seed at 2:15 and not being entered in the 1600 tells me that she might be trying to save herself for the 800 and do something special. Let's see if the other girls can hold on and give her a push the last 200m.

Boys 800

Bold prediction: winner will run under 1:57.

This prediction might not seem super bold for an 800m but considering that it is only February and no boy entered has broken 1:57, I consider this prediction to be more on the bolder side.

Unlike the girls, the boys 800 features a mix of boys who ran the 1600 and those who did not. In total, there are 8 boys seeded under 2:00. Leading the field is Fortenberry. He will look to double back after his 1600 and defend the home track. The 2nd seed on paper, but very easily could be the #1 seed, is Ryan Kelley of Holy Innocents. Ryan ran 1:25 for a 600m time trial which shows he is in shape to go under 2:00, the question is by how much. Jabari Bempah of Chapel Hill comes in as the 3rd seed on paper at 1:57 as well. He has run some indoor races so he might be a little sharper than those who have not raced and with his PR, he will look to factor in to the race early. Reid Latimer of Lambert ran 2:03 and 4:26 last week and comes in as the 4th seed. The strength is clearly there so if he can hang around for 600m, he could easily find himself taking home the victory Saturday. The 5th seed is Jack Baltz of Marietta at 1:58. He has not raced this season but will look to defend the home track with Fortenberry. Matthew Miller of Lambert is seeded at 1:58. He has not run the 800 this season but ran a 4:26 1600 last week so he looks to be in good shape coming off of the winter training block. Ryan Glass of Darlington is the 7th boy seeded under 2:00 at 1:59. He has not raced this season but will look to use his cross country fitness that earned him a podium spot at the state meet. The 8th and final boy seeded under 2:00 is Churchwell. He is seeded at 1:59 but he ran that last weekend and that was after running 4:21 in the 1600. Churchwell is fit and with some better competition, he will look to improve upon this time and challenge for the win. 

Girls 3200

Bold prediction: 6 girls will run under 12:00.

If we were talking about a state meet race or last season race, then this prediction might not be that bold. But considering this meet is in February, seeing 6 girls break 12:00 is not very common.

As with a lot of early season 3200s, this race is a lot harder to gauge and is not as strong as the 1600 or 800. The girls 3200 is a mix of athletes doubling back from the 1600 and athletes who are only running the 3200. Athletes previously mentioned in the 1600 preview are Blaich of Decatur and O'Bryant of North Hall (who is actually entered in 1600, 800 and 3200). Other athletes who will factor into the race are Anna Filipek of Cambridge, Sarah Harrisonof Athens Academy and Isabelle Gaharan of Lambert. Filipek has not raced this season but is coming off a podium finish at the state xc meet in November. Harrison has run 2:25 and 5:19 this season so she looks to be in shape to challenge for the win in this race. Gaharan has run 5:28 this season and finished on the podium at the 7A state xc race which shows she has the ability to run with anyone in this race. This race is really a toss up and anyone mentioned, or not mentioned, could have a chance to challenge for the win. O'Bryant would be the heavy favorite, but if she is running the 1600 and 800 beforehand, she could be racing on very tired legs.  

Boys 3200

Bold prediction: 5 boys will run under 9:40

I feel like a broken record but I will say it again - this might not seem that bold but given that it is February, sub 9:40 for 5 boys is pretty stout.

The boys 3200, on paper, looks like it could be rather competitive for an early season 3200. 9 boys come in seeded under 9:50. Patel takes the top seed at 9:30. He is also entered in the 1600 so running with a race in his legs might factor in to the finish order of this race. Jackson Scruggs of Athens Academy is the 2nd seed at 9:32. He has run 1:59 and 4:24 this season so he could very easily be the top seed in this early season race. Jameson Pifer of Collins Hills is seeded at 9:40. He ran 9:57 last year as an 8th grader and has already run 2:01 and 4:32 this season. Even though he is only a freshman, he will be up in the mix looking not only for a fast time but the win as well. Sterling Sellier of Harrison is an experienced senior. He ran 2:02 and 4:33 at a team time trial this past weekend so we know he is in shape. Getting in a race with more competition could easily push him past his PR of 9:41. Even though he is seeded at #6, Jackson Hogsed of Lambert cannot be overlooked. He finished 7th at the 7A state XC race and has already run 2:06 and 4:26 this season. The longer distances seem to fit him better so this 3200 seems like a perfect race for him to challenge the leaders.