2023 GHSA 1A Division 1 State Track & Field Meet Preview

Luke Churchwell from Bleckley County could be the star of this meet on the distance side

GHSA 1A Division 1 State Meet Preview

Track and Field is often thought of as an individual sport. Now, I would agree it is not a team sport in the sense that football or soccer is a team sport. In those sports, you are depending on your other teammates to be in position and do their job so you can be successful. In track and field, your individual performance has a lot to do with you any only you. So, from that perspective I can understand why track and field gets the reputation of being an individual sport. However, any coach or athlete who has won a team state championship knows that it takes a true team effort to do so, and they have experienced the sport in a way that not many have had the opportunity to experience. In this preview, I hope to bring some of the team drama to light and give a different perspective for you to follow this weekend!

Boys Team Preview

The race for the boys team title for Division 1A-I is going to be a fun one to watch. On paper it looks to be a very close battle between The Mount Vernon School and Bleckley County with The Mount Vernon School having the slight edge. The Mount Vernon School comes into the meet with the potential to score 70+ points and if they do that, they will be hard to beat. They are a well-balanced team with possible points coming from the distance, sprint, relay and hurdles events. The only events they are lacking points in is the jumps and the throws. Christopher Kartsonas and Haris Flynn will look to be the main workhorses for the team as they are both entered in 3 individual events, and I am sure on a relay. Christopher comes into the meet with the chance to score in the 110 hurdles, 300 hurdles and long jump. Haris is entered in the 800, 1600 and 3200 which will be a hard effort given there are 800 prelims to navigate which also happens to be his strongest event where he is projected to finish 2nd to Luke Churchwell of Bleckley County. This could be a race to watch in the team battle because if Haris can upset Luke, then that would go a long way to helping The Mount Vernon School fend off Bleckley County. Nagari Tophia could have scored in the 100, 200 and 400 but he only ran the 100 and 200 at region. He is the top seed in the 100 and 3rd seed in the 200 so his points will be valuable when it comes to the team race.

Bleckley County comes in with a chance to bring home the team title right behind The Mount Vernon School. They are led by a strong distance contingent that is looking to put up 40+ points in just those 3 events. Anyone who follows the sport in Georgia though is not surprised by this. Bleckley County churns out top distance talent year after year and this year is no different. UGA commit Luke Churchwell will look to end his high school career with a bang and bring home 3 individual state titles and 30 huge points. He is the favorite in the 800, 1600 and 3200 but with 4 races in 3 days (and a potential 5th race in the 4x800), he will have his work cut out for him. On paper, his times give him a decent advantage in the 1600 and 3200 so if he is able to just run to win, this might help his chances in securing the 800 title as well. Looking to help Churchwell in the distance events is Caleb Darsey who is projected to score in both the 1600 and 3200. He is the 2nd seed in the 1600 behind Luke and the 5th seed in the 3200. Also looking to contribute to the team score will be Keshun Butler in the long and triple jump and Daevonta Ates in the 110 hurdles.

On paper, it looks like it is a 2 team battle for the team trophy. Should either of these 2 teams falter, there are 3 other teams within striking distance that could grab the team title. There are 4 team trophies up for grabs at the state meet so it will be these 3 teams battling it out for the remaining 2 trophies - Athens Christian, Swainsboro and Mount Pisgah Christian School.

Athens Christian comes into the meet seeded 3rd with the potential to score almost 60 points. That's not the 70+ points it looks like it might take to win the title but it should land them on the podium. One strength to the Athens Christian team is that they are a well-balanced team that utilizes several athletes, unlike the previously mentioned teams who are relying heavily on athletes to triple up and the only discipline they are not projected to score points in is the sprints. They do have one athlete projected to score in 3 individual events but one of them is a field event. Clarke Bryan could finish top 3 in the pole vault, 110 hurdles and 300 hurdles and bring home 18+ points for his team. Nathan Smith will look to score points in the 1600 and 3200 while Eli Vaughn and Thrasher Wilkins will look to both score in the 800. Other field points look to come from Ashton Pickerel in the discus, Zack Colquitt in the pole vault and TJ Finch in the triple jump. 

Coming in to the meet as maybe co-favorites for the final team trophy are Swainsboro and Mount Pisgah Christian School with Swainsboro having a slight edge. The deciding factor might be the depth on each team. Swainsboro is not projected to score any points in the distance or hurdle events whereas Mount Pisgah is projected to score points in every event discipline. Swainsboro is led by Demello Jones and Ty Adams. Demello looks to score in the 100, high jump and triple jump while Ty will look to score in the 200, triple jump and long jump. For Mount Pisgah, Max Tucker and Michael Lynch will look to lead the way. Max is projected to score in the uncommon double of the 400 and shot put while Michael will look to add points in the 1600 and 3200. Makael Carter is a threat to win the long jump with the furthest jump this season by over a foot at 22-11. The gap between these two teams on paper is only 2.5 points and anyone who has been to the state meet knows that small of a gap is easily made up with one missed baton or one faulty hurdle. 

Athletes to Watch

While the team battles this weekend will be fun to watch, I wanted to make sure to highlight some super star individuals who might not be on teams that are factoring into the team title race.

Jacari Huff of Commerce comes in as a threat to win 2 state titles. He is the Region 8 champion in both the 100 and 200. He is the 2nd seed in the 100 at 10.95 and the top seed in the 200 at 22.31. 

Jack Banks of Heard County could be considered a cofavorite in the 200 as he and the top seed are only separated by .01 seconds. Jack ran 22.32 to win the Region 4 championships and this is his only individual event of the meet so fresher legs might see him through to the finish line first.

Andrew Rothwell of Whitefield Academy will be one to watch in the distance races. He is the 3rd seed in the 1600 at 4:28 and the 2nd seed in the 3200 at 9:42. He finished on the podium back in November at the state cross country meet so he has shown he has what it takes to mix it up with the best in Division 1A-I.

Michael Fleming of Oglethorpe County will be doubling in the 110 and 300 hurdles where he is the top seed in the 110 hurdles by almost a second and the 5th seed in the 300 hurdles. His 110 hurdle time ranks him 12th in the entire state.

Nathan Anderson of Woodville-Tompkins HS is the top seed in the 300 hurdles. This is his only individual event this weekend so it looks like he is putting all his eggs in this basket to try to win the individual state title. 

Jacob Carruthers of Barrow Arts and Sciences Academy is in the mix to win 2 individual state titles this weekend. One in the 400 and one in the high jump. He is the 2nd seed in the 400 at 50.00 and the top seed in the high jump at 6-6.

Brenden Vanderpool is the clear favorite in the boy's pole vault. His vault of 16-4.75 puts him almost 2 feet higher than second place. He is also close to breaking in to the top 10 GA All time list. It would take a vault of 16-6 or better to do that. This competition will be one to watch as Brenden is not only one of the top vaulters in the state this year but one of the best our state has ever seen.

Gus Gammage of Darlington School is not only one of the best throwers in Division 1a-I but one of the best in the entire state. He is the heavy favorite to win the shot put with a PR of 54-3.5 which makes him the top seed by almost 6 feet. This mark is also the 7th best mark in the entire state this year.

Nasir Johnson of Dublin HS comes in as the favorite in the discus with a mark of 156-7 which bests the next closest competitor in the field by over 6 feet. 

Girls Team

The race for the girl's team title looks like it is Oglethorpe County's to lose. They come in as the heavy favorite to bring home top honors on Saturday. They have the potential to score 100+ points which is almost double what second place might score. With the potential to score over 100 points, you thought right if you thought they would bring potential scorers in every event discipline, including all 4 relays. Denim Goddard will look to bring home points in the triple jump and long jump, where she is favored to win. Fellow teammate Kenzie Henderson will look to add points in the high jump, where she is the favorite to win, as well as the 300 hurdles. The 400/800 double is not for everyone and is not for the faint of heart but it is for Sydnie Henderson and Lizzie Wadsworth who are both projected to score in both events. I could keep going on and on but this team is loaded across the board and will look to assert their dominance this weekend.

While the battle for first seems a forgone conclusion, the battle for 2nd and the remaining podium spots is going to be very close with 4 teams all within 13 points of each other. Mount Pisgah Christian School, Bleckley County and Athens Christian will all look to mirror their boys team performances and bring home a team trophy this weekend with the 4th team in the mix being Dublin HS. Mount Pisgah and Bleckley County are slight favorites as they both have the potential to score 50+ points while Athens Christian and Dublin will look to battle it out for the 4th spot as they are only separated by 1 point on paper.

Mount Pisgah is led by Savannah Simmons and Madison Childress. Savannah will look to bring home points in the long jump, 100 and 200 while Madison will look to contribute in the long jump, triple jump and 100. Natania Nasieku will also look to add points in her 2 events, the triple jump and 110 hurdles. As with the boys, Bleckley County will be counting on their strong distance program to push them up the team standings. Anyone who has followed the sport knows who Ella Gibbs is. She is not just one of the top runners in Division 1A-I but she is one of the top runners in the entire state. She has the top time in the 800 and 1600 and the third best time in the 3200. However, with her cross country performance and her 1600 performance, I fully expect her to be in the mix to win the 3200 as well. If she can bring home 30 points, then that will go a long way in helping her team earn a team trophy. Looking to help Ella will be Tristen Crosby in the 800 and 1600 and Emma Wilson in the 400.

The battle for 4th is very close with only 1 point separating Athens Christian and Dublin. Athens Christian has points spread across every event discipline while Dublin will be relying heavily on their sprints and relays. Ansley Moore will look to earn 20+ points for Athens Christian as she is projected to score in the 800, 1600 and 3200. Looking to help her will be Kiera Simmons in the 100 and 200 and Ma'Kaya Ellis in the long jump and 100 hurdles. Dublin will be relying on Tahara Diallo and Caitlyn Nesbitt who are both projected to score in 2 events. Tahara is projected to bring home points in the 400 and 300 hurdles but with the new meet schedule, these events are now back to back so this might be a tough double to pull off and might go a long way in determining team finishes. Caitlyn will look to bring back points in the 100 and 200. 

Athletes to Watch

Audrey Vandagriff will look to not only score in two individual events but challenge for the top spot. She is the 2nd seed in both the 100 and 200 with PRs of 12.23 and 25.62. 

Olivia Jackson of Screven County will be one to watch in the sprints. She is the 3rd seed in the 100 and the top seed in the 200 with PRs of 12.32 and 25.38.

Jada Hyman of Social Circle will look to earn a medal in two events. She is the 4th seed in the 200 and the top seed in the 400. She come s in to the meet with PRs of 26.23 and 57.85.

Marissa Kimple and Shelby Green from Armuchee will look to score big points this weekend and build upon their breakout cross country seasons last fall. Marissa is the 2nd seed in the 1600 and the top seed in the 3200 with PRs of 5:14 and 11:11. Shelby Green will take on duties in the 800 and 1600. She is not projected to score in the 800 but with her 5:15 PR in the 1600, if she can be in the mix with 200 to go, she might also find herself in the 800 finals.

Kennedy Reynolds of the Mount Vernon School will look to win the 100 and 300 hurdles this weekend. She is the top seed in both events with PRs of 15.62 and 45.25. She is the only athlete who has gone under 16.0 seconds and 46.0 seconds in the events.

Trinity Lavant of Claxton HS is a heavy favorite in the triple jump with a PR jump of 38-0.25 which puts her almost a foot and a half ahead of the next closest competitor.

Adair Carlin of Galloway will look to not only win the pole vault but cement herself as one of the top vaulters in state history. Her PR of 12-6.25 is the top mark by over a foot and ranks her 2nd in the entire state this season. Just like in the boys pole vault, she will be looking for a mark of 12-8.25 or better which would put her in the top 10 GA All Time list.

Marika Glaze of Elbert County will look to win a state title in the discus in her first trip to the state meet. She advanced to sectionals last year but only managed a 12th place finish. She is much improved this year with a mark of 112-0. This mark puts her as the top seed by over 8 feet.