2023 Coach Wood Invitational Meet Preview

Girls Championship race from Coach Wood Last year

Well here we are, the end of the regular season. It's always bittersweet getting to this meet, knowing that after Saturday we all go our separate ways and focus on our own regions and classifications. the regular season is always so much fun because we all seem like one big happy family, duking it out on the course against any and all comers. I love it. Obviously all of us are also paying close attention to our region and class rivals, among other underlying storylines. But ultimately, everybody is out there just doing the best they can to get faster week to week. The post season hits next week and the mood certainly shifts. Bubble teams shift their focus on just getting to state. Top teams shift their focus to who they should rest to maximize, or rather - minimize, their points at state. Everybody's attitude changes a least a little bit when the region meets hit. 

But for now we get one final meet where we focus on seeing who is the best and try to see just how fast each kid can run. Saturday is about nothing else other than bragging rights. The Coach Wood Invitational has often been dubbed the "all class state meet." And for years almost every top team would show up and duke it out one last time in a high pressure (but also no pressure) situation. It was fun. Over the years various top teams have opted for other races, but it's still the deepest race for top Georgia talent all season long. Other meets might have more total runners, but none of them can match the depth of in state competition that we get at the Coach wood meet. One can only assume this is because it's one of the fastest courses in the state and most teams want to get their team confidence up heading into the post season.

Boys Championship

The boys race features 7 of the top 10 teams in the state and 15 of the top 25 teams. That's top end talent and depth that you just don't get for too many other meets. It always leads to fireworks. It's also an opportunity for other teams to prove themselves as almost every other team in the race is a bubble team that could jump into the top 25 with a good race. The team to beat is Harrison, but for the first time all year, that could actually happen. Westminster will also be here and if they are at full strength this could be a thrilling race that comes down to the 5th man. These are the top two teams in the state and will definitely be looking to show off one more time before we enter the post season as it's the last time they'll get to race each other unless both teams do Nike or RunningLane. The next two teams behind them are Blessed Trinity and Marist, who are the best two teams in 6A and will see each other again in a few weeks to battle for the 6A title. Bt got the better of their catholic school rivals the last time they raced, but then Marist bounced back nicely last week at Great American. If that team shows up tomorrow they could reassert themselves as the 6A favorites and could also challenge Harrison or Westminster for the win. I think those are the best four Georgia teams in this race and it's unlikely anybody else cracks the top 4 unless they're from out of state. After that it's anybody's guess as to who could claim the 5th best spot. Oconee County is the next ranked team and they have a very strong squad, but there are at least 5 other teams, and probably more, who could realistically think they can beat Oconee and claim a top 5 finish in this meet. South Forsyth, Pace Academy, Jefferson, Whitefield Academy, and Mill Creek are all lurking. 

Individually, Tommy Latham is as sure of a bet to win as you can get. He is undefeated against Georgia runners this year and has already been under 15:00 on 3 different courses while no other Georgia runner has been under once. The only real question left is if he will gap the field immediately or bide his time to make his move later on in the race. He could also sit around until the 3 mile and work on his kick if he's gearing up for a post season run. You never know. He's the favorite and he's earned the right to do what he wants in this race. Behind Latham are plenty of runners who will all be excited to try to finish runner up in a field like this. Eli Griggs, Joseph Jacquot, and Jameson Pifer have all been under 15:10 and lead the charge, but I would be absolutely shocked if they finished in that order. That is not a knock against those runners who have all been fantastic this season, but it's more a tip of the cap to the incredible field we have. There are probably 10 or more other runners in this race who could all believe they could finish top 5 in this race and give any one of those three a run for their money. There are too many to mention all of them fairly, but a few stick out as being very interesting cases. Christian Jimenez has bounced back from injury well so far this year so it'll be interesting to see if he can keep that trajectory going. Riley Comstock is a freshman who has raced like anything but the new kid this season. He's fearless and dangerous. Aaron Brodrick is looking to prove he's just as good as Latham, but just a year younger. Liam Hanemann and Loden Kohrman didn't have the luxury of racing at Asics and might be underrated coming into this thing and hungry to prove it while also focusing on key team points. Countless others could be in the mix as well from Esfan Daya, Davis Drake, Kaleb Tesfaye, Ben Davis, Joseph Minecci, Teddy Meredith, Matthew Wells, Wood Moore, and Andrew Rothwell. 

Girls Championship

The girls team race is missing the top ranked team, but still has 7 of the top 10 teams and 12 of the top 25 teams. With no Marietta, somebody new will win this year, and hopefully it's an in state school. Pace Academy and Marist are the two most likely to represent Georgia on the top of the podium. They both have front runners and are strong enough at 5 to hold off other teams, even in a big field like this. Pace got the better of Marist the last time they raced, but Marist had a strong showing last week at Great American. This could certainly be their return back to the top if they're at full strength. St. Pius X and Walton also figure to both be in the mix among the top teams if they're healthy. Both teams have a strong pack that can match just about anybody in the state. You never know who will be at full strength and who will not for this race, but all things created equal I think we have a fairly clear top 4 teams on the girls side. You'd be a fool to completely count anybody else out in a meet like this though, so look for McIntosh, Blessed Trinity, Harrison, and Decatur to all be running with a chip on their shoulder wanting to prove me wrong.

Individually we will see another battle of Caroline Hood and Ruby Little. I don't even know the score between the two of them at this point, but it does appear that Hood is having the slightly stronger season so far. Anything can happen when these two line up to race each other so get your popcorn out and enjoy the show. That being said...the favorites lost in this one last year and the Armuchee runners stole the show. Don't overlook Marissa Kimple who is the top returner from this meet last year. She could definitely be ready to go as probably loves this course. Jewell Wells is another runner who could be looking to make a statement. She already showed she can be a contender for the 7A team title, but if backs it up this weekend then that could certainly put a target on her back for November. Zahara Bernal is our other top runner who will have her sights set on the top 5. She's in Hood's shadow a little bit, but is still a top runner in her own right. On paper those are your top 5, but in a race like this I predict we see at least one girl surprise somebody and steal one of those spots. Much like the boys race, figuring out who that will be is tricky as there are many girls who are close and predicting which one is most ready for a jump is often difficult or impossible. But a few names jump our as being capable of making that jump including London Ray, Isabel Yonas, Peyton Reeves, Catherine Townsend, Mary Parrish Green, and many others from the top contending teams.