The Boys race from Starrs Mill last year
Well. A lot can change in just two weeks. I missed this weekly column last week because I was traveling. But back then I wrote that the weekend was providing "just a taste" of what was to come. And that was true back then. But that's no longer the case. Between the big meets last weekend and the big meets this weekend, things are officially underway in the Georgia High School season. Almost every top team will have done a big time invitational, either in state or out of state, by the end of this weekend. So by Sunday we will all have a much better idea of where everybody stacks up. After this weekend, it's unlikely any of us will use the excuse that it's too early to see how things stack up. We should know.
But just because something big happens this weekend, doesn't mean it'll produce the exact same results all season. It's also an interesting part of the season because we get to see who has been getting ready to go and who has preferred a slower start to the season. Either approach can yield great results, of course, but it's always interesting to see what approach a team will take. Personally, I'm most looking forward to seeing what happens with the cooler weather. We usually have to wait until late September or October to get a weekend like this weather wise. Not this year, we get it right away in early September. There are a lot of kids out there that know how hard they've been working and are ready to show off their new found fitness. This is a perfect weekend to do that. Let's all enjoy the nice weather and great racing at the meets this weekend.
The AT&T Starrs Mill Panther XC Meet is easily the highlight meet of the weekend this time around. That's no disrespect to anybody who is attending a different meet, but this one is absolutely loaded. Any team who finishes in the top 10 at this one is a team who could contend for a podium finish in November. For the history buffs, check out the top performances from the last decade. It's a great way to get the cooler season of racing started. Combine that with what is usually a pretty good early season PR course and we're bound to see some fireworks. Things get started on the girls side where traditional powers Marist and St. Pius X will likely be contending for a top spot. But don't assume it'll just be a two team battle as they'll have to hold off at least one team from the state next door if they want to defend the home Georgia turf, something neither of them were able to do last year. But they're not the only two Georgia teams up to the task. Harrison girls could easily defend their title from this meet that they won last year if they are full strength. And defending 5A state champions Decatur could also be a factor at the top of the final results. Other girls teams who could have a strong finish include Mill Creek, Lambert, and McIntosh. Individually this thing is billed as a Ruby Little vs. Samantha McGarity rematch from last year. These two have dueled it out many times over the years and had some great ones last year. Little got the better of her at this meet, Wingfoot, and Jesse Owens last year while McGarity had the better finish at Coach Wood and the top overall time, albeit in a different race, at state last year. If those trends matter at all, that leaves Little as the favorite for tomorrow. But anything can happen when these two toe the line. If I remember correctly they opened in under 5:20 through the mile here last year. After an out of state runner who is poised for 3rd, it'll likely be a battle for 4th with a bunch of girls whose team will be in the hunt. Jessica Sheehan, Peyton Reeves, and Maeve Waddell will all be looking to put up low points for their teams. But don't discount somebody like Aine Trapp who has a history of running well in big races.
On the boys side there are a bunch of teams who could be ready to show they're one of the teams to beat in the state this year. I'm definitely not going to name a favorite for this race because there are about 67 teams who wouldn't surprise me if they won it. The best team on paper coming in is Westminster, a team who had their strongest team ever last year and returns a large portion of it, but they didn't quite look full strength at their first race this season so there are some question marks there. Another team who could run away with this thing if they're firing on all cylinders is Harrison. They were led by two freshmen two weeks ago so who knows what they're capable of. Lambert is another team that has the low sticks and the depth to be a factor and win this thing, but they also appeared to be missing a runner or two last time they raced. Marist has the front runners, but I'm not quite sure if they have the depth to compete with some of these other teams. But you never know who got themselves a nice off season surprise that could vault them into the mix with everybody else. Paideia had their best team ever last year but look like they might be even stronger this year. They don't quite have the superstars up front, but their pack could be very tight and in a deeper race like this, that could make a huge difference. And finally Starrs Mill will be there to try to defend their home course. They're another team who had their best ever team last year and could be strong again this year. Other teams who may not be in the mix for the win but could do well and get a trophy are Evans, Mill Creek, Decatur, and St. Pius X. Individually, can anybody stop Tommy Latham? Probably not if he's healthy and going for the win. But you never know, it's still early enough in the season that there are some question marks out there or surprises waiting to reveal themselves. Esfan Daya and Jackson Hogsed appear to be set for a race for 2nd, but that's probably only if Latham takes it out hard enough to string things out. If I was a betting man, my guess would be Latham will sit in the pack for a good chunk of this thing which means Daya and Hogsed will be forced there as well. And that always leads to a little bit of a shake up. And with ten total boys in the field who have already broken 16:00, you could see any of them emerge as 2nd overall in a race that plays out like that. So I'm not going to write any of them off, but I would think Reid Latimer, Eli Griggs, and Jacob Jacquot have the best chance of pulling off a top 5 finish behind the names already mentioned. And finally, the two wild cards in this race are the Harrison freshman superstar duo of Riley Comstock and Sam Comsudes. I have no idea what they'll do, but I'm excited to find out.
The two other in state meets that could draw some attention this weekend are the Run at the Rock and the Jekyll Island Invitational. Up in Cartersville the girls race will likely be won by Hillgrove, but they could be challenged by River Ridge or The King's Academy. Individually Kelly Miles will try to hold off the hill grove duo of Yolanda Brooks and Talia Brown for the win. On the boys side, I think Hillgrove is probably favored to complete the sweep. But they could be challenged by Duluth or host Woodland for the win. Individually, the Hillgrove duo of Joseph Brooks and John Shepherd will try to hold off Diego Ladera for the overall win.
On the Island, it looks like it'll be a battle of some of the schools from that general area can hold off some of the city schools coming down for a beach trip. On the girls side it appears to be a battle between Westminster Schools of Augusta and Maynard Jackson for the win. But there are a few other teams who could mix it up with them including Ware County, Central, Glynn Academy, and South Effingham. Individually Grace Danser has to be the favorite, but she will have a few other sub 20 girls to hold off including Sarah-Corrine Collins, Lucy Barker, and Bella Pearson. On the boys side South Effingham and Glynn Academy will try to fight Collins Hill back to the metro area. Lakeside Evans could also be a factor on the boys team side. Individually though Jameson Pifer and Adam Lippe could put on a show. You've got two strong runners who are not afraid to fight for the win. This thing could be magical for those in attendance. Throw in Tyler Phillips, Jackson Hunter, and Parker Ferguson and this thing has everything you need for it to be an instant classic. I'm looking forward to hearing about it.