Weekend Meet Previews Sep. 9: First Set of Important Meets

Varsity Girls race at Gwinnett County last year

This is not meant as an insult to any of the awesome meets or great performances we've seen so far, but the beginning of the season is ultimately about having fun getting back out there than it is preparing for the championship season. This weekend we've got several meets where there's much more of a championship feel to it, quite literally with several of the county championships taking place. But even the meets that aren't quite at the level of a county championship have a field that could rival or even exceed any of the county championships. Almost everybody appears to be racing in some sort of high stakes race this weekend and it always makes for really exciting action.

I know some teams are choosing the fast out of state meets, but we've got enough going on in state that we're going to take a look at the biggest of these meets here in Georgia and preview some of the deeper ones. In an attempt to not show favoritism to any one meet, the previews have been done in alphabetical order. There's not one meet that is clearly head and shoulders above the rest here like we often have in this sport. But instead we've got several that are all fairly similar in competition level, just on different courses. In some cases the course is very different. It looks like we're going to get some great weather for this weekend yet again so the tough competition could produce some impressive times in some cases.

Cobb County

I grew up in the Gwinnett versus Cobb era of this sport so maybe this is nostalgia coming back to me in terms of classifying the Cobb County Championships as such a huge meet, but you can't deny the talent that the county produces year in and year out. In recent years it's turned into a little bit of a Marietta vs. Harrison affair though and that's not different this year as I expect those teams to go 1-2 in both races.

In the girls race the Marietta girls are coming off of a win at OrthoWest where they looked fine, but not the dominant team we saw last fall. I don't think anybody quite has the depth or top end speed to match them, but they do look more vulnerable than they've looked in quite some time, so it wouldn't be a complete shock if Harrison showed up and got the win. Harrison had a solid start to their season and appear to be getting stronger as the season goes on. Should be a very good race between two teams that have developed a fairly intense rivalry in recent years. Following the two star powers are other traditional podium and state title contenders with Walton and Hillgrove. While they appear to make up the best of the rest category, neither should be overlooked. Individually it will likely be hard to beat Samantha McGarity who is starting to look like the girl who almost set a course record at Carrollton last fall, before it apparently got fast again SMH. She should be up front but who knows if she will go for a fast time or be content to just race for the win and work on her kick or something. Maddie Jones and Mary Nesmith will of course be able to challenge here for a top spot, I just don't know if either of them are quite up to the challenge of taking down what appears to be a healthy McGarity. Josie Hutchinson is one of the only non Harrison or Marietta names in the top group of girls and could very well be the only one in the top ten, but Daniela Delgado could also show up and run a strong enough race to mix it up. But she's a fine runner who can contend up front in this one. Other names who could make their way up front are the rest of the Lady Devil and Hoya squads with Nora Hart, Collete DePasquale, Peyton Reeves, and Angelina Villamar leading the charge.

On the boys side the favorites flip. Harrison boys are the strong favorites with Marietta being the one team who could possibly stop them. The incredible freshman duo the Hoyas have has made their already young and talented team even more...young and talented. Harrison is the best team in the state right now and this will probably be their worst team in the next three years. That...seems unfair to the rest of us. But let's enjoy the show while we've got it and see just what this young bunch can do. Marietta is coming off an upset state title win last year and has simply been the best boys program in recent years. So even though they graduated a decent amount, they've got plenty of talent to have a podium finish at this meet. Hillgrove, Pope, Walton, and Whitefield Academy will probably round out the scoring in this one. Individually I don't see an obvious favorite. The exciting pick would of course be the freshman phenom Riley Comstock or teammate Sam Comsudes. They've definitely shown already they're not scared to mix it up with the big boys. But Joseph Minecci and Andrew Rothwell are seasoned veterans who can absolutely use their experience to get a leg up on the new kids. I tend to lean towards the experience in a situation like this, but I'm not at all confident in that pick. Anything can happen in this one so get the popcorn out. Other individuals who could finish in a top spot include Clint Huggins, Dermot Maloney, Joseph Brooks, and John Shepherd.

Gwinnett County

"Gwinnett is Great" says the water tower heading up I-85 in the biggest county in the state. Or at least biggest in terms of size of the schools. They make up a large chunk of the highest classification and have for a while now. And for years this meet was more or less an early state meet preview save for one or two teams. But even though things changed and that's no longer the case, you can always count on at least a few Gwinnett teams being in contention for a podium spot, often times the top podium spot. So the Gwinnett County Championships is a meet that is rich in history and has always been one of the deepest county meets in the state.

This year the boys race is an interesting one. I came into the season thinking Brookwood would run away with this thing but now I'm not so sure. Either they've had a little bit of a slow start, intentional or not, or I underestimated their opponents. I do still believe it's hard to think of anybody else as the favorite, but don't be surprised if Mill Creek or Parkview shows up on Saturday to spring the upset. Mill Creek is only two years removed from a dominant state title run and looks to have recovered a little bit from last year while Parkview is just one man away from being a top contender in all of 7A. Anything can happen in this thing. Other teams vying for podium spots include Norcross, Duluth, and Archer. Individually this thing could be a very interesting battle. Eli Griggs is back from California and is the favorite for Saturday, but super sophomore Jameson Pifer is definitely not going to let him just have it. Pifer always shows up and races so Griggs will absolutely have to work for this one. And let's not forget just how intelligent Brookwood's coach is when it comes to top athletes in championship races. I wouldn't be surprised at all if Charlie Thomas, Carter Dehnke, or Austin Dezwart came away with the win tomorrow. Parkview front runners Kaleb Tesfaye and Solomon Mussie have also had a strong start to their seasons and appear more than ready to challenge the top runners in this field for some serious bragging rights. And finally you've got the wild cards with Mintasinot Zawudie and Brandon Nolen who could spring an upset on Saturday if they're ready to go and improved from their August races a few weeks ago.

On the girls side I see it more as a two team battle for the win. Brookwood looks to have the edge over Mill Creek but it's definitely not a done deal. Brookwood has  the slightly stronger pack but the Mill Creek front runners could gain a huge advantage if they're able to go 1-2 up front. Anything can happen so I'm not going to make a prediction, but I do expect these two teams to battle it out all the way to the line. Chasing the other podium spots this year appear to be Norcross, Parkview, and North Gwinnett. Individually 2-3 girls will probably separate fairly early on. Jewell Wells is almost certainly the favorite, but don't be surprised is Emily Rodriguez gives her a challenge for at least half the race. Most likely though Rodriguez will be battling Evelyn Schlitz for the runner up spot in this one. Behind them Kennedy Wardle and Elkin Regina who are pretty solid bets for a top finish near the front. Layla Melton, anna Woods, and Avery Sams are the next girls in line should any of the top five runners falter.

Milton Invitational

With Carrollton appearing to run faster again this year, Milton now gets to lay claim as having the toughest course is the state without much debate. And yet, they're still drawing some top talent. I don't know how they do it but it must be the result of excellent meet management because it's certainly not a result of a fast or fun course course. Coaches are clearly wanting to see their kids challenged on this one. The Milton Invitational almost serves as an unofficial blend of the Fulton and Forsyth County championships since neither county has a championship scheduled for this year.

The boys team race is gonna be a good one. West Forsyth can certainly be considered the favorite coming in, but it's never easy to beat somebody on their home course. Milton will know the hills and turns better than anybody so even though West looks a little stronger on paper, don't count out the hometown team. South Forsyth is also always strong and will definitely put up a fight this year. Others competing for top 5 spots appear to be River Ridge, Cambridge, and Chattahoochee. Individually this thing could be a thriller. Coming in to this season I would have thought of Diego Fernandes as the runaway favorite for this one, but others have really stepped up their game and will definitely challenge him. Zach Patell is having himself a great start to his junior campaign and appears to be the next Milton front runner. But even then, both of these runners could lose to teammates in this one as Cole Schmoyer, Parker Chase, and Justin Sevel are all close enough in the chase pack that they could come away with the win on this tough course. Other runners who could have a top finish include Ben Winn, Jeremiah McGraw, and Matthew Coates.

For the girls we've got another battle of front runners versus depth. I always love when we get those type of races and this week it's gonna be a question of whether or not South Forsyth's low sticks can get them enough of a lead before West Forsyth's depth takes over. Milton is also in contention here so don't count them out on their home course. Cambridge is another contender who could be sneaky here and turns some heads with a strong performance. Individually Isabel Yonas appears to be the class of the field, but she does have to go against a strong Ella Grace Malcom who will be looking to defend her home turf. Kelly Miles also looks like a strong contender for the top spot is she has a good day. Other contenders who wouldn't surprise if they won include Talley Pendleton, Lauren Tindle, Paige Harden, and Lidia Lo Faro.

Warpath Invitational

And last but certainly not least is the Fleet Feet Warpath Invitational which takes place at the always fast Boling Park. Because of this it usually draws a pretty strong field and this year is no different. This one could produce the best top talent and depth of the weekend but who knows, all of these meets are very strong. Boling Park has basically no hills so it's not quite the test that the other courses on this list are, it's definitely a PR factory, especially for teams who haven't run a fast course yet. The only problem is that it's a fairly narrow course. Usually the front runners are able to run fairly clean and can run very fast times, but the middle of the pack can get fairly congested. Moving up is a little bit of a challenge so a fast start is crucial at this meet so you don't get stuck.

The girls race is a little easier to preview than the boys race so we will start there. On paper it looks like St. Pius X will be hard to beat. They've got multiple front runners and enough depth to match anybody else in the field. It looks like it's their race to lose. But they haven't run full strength yet this season and North Hall also has some very good front runners of their own. If they can find a couple at 4-5 then they could definitely come away with the win in this one. Other teams who could challenge for a top spot include Carrollton, Denmark, and Northview. Individually this race will probably go to Claire Shelton. She's just waiting to break 18:00 and on this fast course it could finally be her time to do so. There will be a solid pack of girls behind Shelton and basically any of them could take 2nd place and almost all of them have teammates. But Morgan Grace Sheffield looks to be just a step ahead of the others at this point in time. It's not a guarantee for 2nd but it seems likely given her season so far. The other girls who will challenge as teammates include Jessica Sheehan and Zoe Garcia from Pius, Clodagh O'Bryant, Harleigh Smith, and Abi Moore from North Hall, Emily Whipple and Abbie Kallbreier.

On the boys side things are a little more complicated. Is Carrollton finally running full strength? If so, then they should win going away. But if not, then they'll need to find a 5th man still if they want to contend for the win. If they struggle at all, then I think Oconee County and Denmark could be the next two in line to try to come away with the win. Other teams that could go well if things go their way are St. Pius X, Gainesville, and Lakeside Dekalb. Individually we've got ourselves a barn burner. Will we see another sub 15? Aaron Brodrick is on a tear so far, but so is Noah Martinson. If these two get after it early we could see something very fast. I don't see either as a favorite at this point, but I'll probably look back o this after the race and roll my eyes thinking I should have known better. Ethan Bridge, Ben Sydell, and Conner Proffitt are also 3 very strong runners who could not only contend for top 5 but could find themselves up closer to the top 2 if they're at their best. Then you've got 3 more Carrollton runners under 16 already and Cooper Timberman who is one of the best #2 runners in the state. This thing should be fast early and drag the whole field through something special. Look for some fireworks.