GHSA 4A State Preview: Juggernauts Having Best Season Ever

Esfan Daya will look to lead his team to the title again this year

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Two of Georgia most prestigious academic and athletic institutions lead the way in 4A. Of course I am talking about Westminster for the boys and Pace Academy for the girls side. These two teams have been some of the best in Georgia, placing very highly in the all-class rankings. Not only that, these are both "dynasty teams" who want to make a statement this Saturday. Westminster is looking to win their seventh state championship in a row. Pace Academy is looking to win four in a row and their fifteenth state championship in school history. Both of these teams are extremely legit and there are some others who want to step up and prove themselves on the Carrollton hills.

Boys Individual

Now this is going to be a very interesting one. University of Pennsylvania commit, Esfan Daya, has been "the man" all season for his Westminster Wildcats. Daya has been running so consistently all season and is the current leader based off of time going into the state meet. Not only that, he has had very impressive performances this season including two runner-up finishes at the AT&T Starr's Mill Panther Meet as well as North Carolina's Wendy's Invitational and a top ten finish at Coach Wood. His teammates have commented that Esfan is "smooth" and focused in practice, and he certainly lived up to it on the course. Watching from the sidelines due to injury this year was Esfan's teammate and Georgia Tech commit, Joseph Jacquot. Even though Jacquot missed almost the entire season, he had a tremendous return at Coach Wood where he finished first for his team and earned top five honors. What a way to open the season! Clearly, the lack of racing has not been too much of a detriment to him. These two friendly rivals are going to be pushing one another the whole way in the same manner they would almost everyday at practice. Joseph's younger brother, Jacob Jacquot, should be following those two closely as he is ranked top five in 4A. Another Westminster athlete, Gideon Zemedhun, is going to be vying for a top ten podium finish. 

Fellow Buckhead rivals, Pace Academy, have a whole squad of boys who are going to want to roll with the Wildcats. Leading them is Matthew Wells who has a quick sub 15:40 personal best from ASICS and a win from his region meet. Joining him is sophomore Iliyan Hajiani who has gone sub 16:00 this season and junior Drew Park who is ranked 10th in the virtual meet with his personal best from ASICS. Diego Ramos and Bankson Roach of Starr's Mill are a strong duo with Roach ranked in the top five and Ramos in the top fifteen of the virtual meet. Clarkston has three boys currently in the top fifteen, led by Abenezer Woellore who was third at his highly competitive region meet. Keep an eye on local talent, Casey Thornton, from nearby Central High School. Thornton was shy of the top ten last year and has mostly been competing in low-key meets. Other names who are going to be in the hunt for a podium finish are Bryant Young, Claud Tussiime, John Dodson, Josh Wineland, Kristopher Strong, and William Porter, and John Dodson (9th last year).  

GA MileSplit Prediction:
1. Joseph Jacquot
2. Daya
3. Jacob Jacquot
4. Thornton
5. Wells

Boys Team

In the many years of their storied program, Westminster has never had a team as good as this one. When this team is competing at their best, I would say that they are one of the best teams in Georgia history. In spite of struggles with injuries, the team has competed extremely well thanks in part to motivation and leadership from seniors such as Esfan Daya and Tyler Robinson. At the Wendy's Invitational, they set a school record 5K average of 16:15, and this was without Joseph Jacquot. They then went on to improve upon that school record with a 16:05 5K average at Coach Wood. The team is deep and usually has a 1-5 split within 70 seconds. Their fifth through seventh men have changed so many times this season, showing how competitive this team is. The Wildcats want to win Saturday; however, they want to make sure it is an EXCELLENT win as legendary Coach Tribble would say. They were the all-class state champions last year and would like to repeat a similar result to show the rest of Georgia who the best in the state really is. 

"The team's goal is to win the 4A State Championship this year," Senior team member Lucas Mepani said. "With the way the team has been racing and practicing lately, we are ready to achieve this." 

Willem "Way Too Fast" Mandel says to watch out for "The Ranger." Whatever that means. #victory

While the Wildcats are the favorites, they are going to face decent competition. The race for second through fourth looks to be extremely close with Pace Academy, Clarkston, and Starr's Mill all within a few points of one another in the virtual meet. I want to first start off with Starr's Mill who actually bested Pace Academy at Coach Wood to earn a sixth place finish. This team on their best day is dangerous. Last year, they almost spoiled Westminster's state championship streak and earned second place in the all-class honors. Similar to last year, this team has a close 1-5 gap of a 1:00.41 based off of personal bests. Watch out for Coach Livingston's squad as they should always be taken seriously. Next up is Pace Academy who has competed very well this season. I would say their best race was at the ASICS Invitational where they were sixth place and only a few points off of one of the best teams in 7A, Carrollton High School. There, they had a very impressive 16:09 5K average and a seventy second 1-5 split. As mentioned earlier, this team has some front runners who at their best, can be in contention with Westminster's leaders. Finally, we have to talk about Clarkston. From 2014 to 2016, this team was one of the best in the state, and they have now returned to being a podium contending team. Last year they were an impressive third, and this year, they want to improve upon that result. Based off of season bests, their 1-5 split is 45.71 seconds. That is the definition of pack running right there. They have a season average of 16:23.94. Their key win of the season was at the DeKalb County Championships where they put five runners in the top ten and swept first through third place. Never count out this team, especially with their depth. Other podium contending teams include Lovett and North Hall. 

Ga MileSplit Prediction
1. Westminster
2. Clarkston
3. Pace
4. Starr's Mill

Girls Individual 

She has been the best ALL SEASON! First at OrthoWest, runner-up finishes at the Southern Showcase and Wingfoot, first at ASICS with a new personal best of 17:16.37, first at Coach Wood, and a region win. That has been Caroline Hood's season so far and the accolades keep going. Her personal best makes her the number one girl in the state this year and she has not lost to any Georgia athletes. While the Duke University commit I am sure has nationals on her mind, she is staying focused on her goal of helping her team win. Joining in her efforts are fellow teammates Zahara Bernal, Olivia Resnick, and Harriet Blaha who all have personal bests ranging from 17:55.68 to 18:59.27. The Lady Knights could very well have four girls in the top five which is quite the accomplishment at such a high level of competition. Bernal has been competing since early August and has impressive top ten finishes at OrthoWest, ASICS, and Wingfoot, making her one of the best overall runners in the state. 

There are three notable girls who are more than likely going to be right there with the Lady Knights Saturday. Clodagh O'Bryant of North Hall was last year's bronze medalist in the 4A race. She has proven that she can compete very well on the Carrollton course. This past season, she has been very consistent with a few wins at various invitationals. Most recently, she had an impressive win at her region meet where she set a new personal best of 18:44.42 at a moderately challenging course. This could signify peaking at the right time and that she is ready to compete at the state meet. Mary Parrish Green of Lovett and Taylor Tarpley of Whitewater have been very competitive with the Lady Knights. At Coach Wood, Green, Tarpley, and Resnik all finished in sequential order of one another to earn top twenty honors. They were all within five seconds of one another. Let me tell you, after Hood and Bernal, it is going to be an absolute nail biter to earn a podium finish. Other athletes to watch out for are Central High School duo Lucy Barker and Lorelei Daugherty, Abi Moore (6th place last year), Kendra Ivaska, and Lucy Johnson. 

Ga MileSplit Prediction
1. Hood
2. Bernal
3. O'Bryant
4. Moore
5. Green

Girls Team

The Pace Academy Lady Knights have been one of the best teams in the state all season. Hood and Bernal are more than likely the best 1-2 combo in the state, and the team is helped out with depth from 3-5. Their fifth woman is ranked in the top twenty of 4A's virtual meet. The team has had some very impressive performances including a runner-up finish at OrthoWest, third place at ASICS where they had a very fast 1-5 average of 18:35, an excellent win at Wingfoot. This team has shown when they are their best, they are among the best if not the best team in the state. They are looking forward to potentially winning their fourth consecutive state title, and you can expect them to chase times as I am sure they would also like to put "All-class state champions" on their resume. 

"Since the first day of practice, we established that our goal is to go for our fourth consecutive championship win as a team," Hood said. "It's such a special moment to have, and you work all season to get back to that point. Seeing the work put in week in and week out, and watching it pay off at each meet has really kept the energy high all season. It's my last race with these girls so it's a bitter-sweet moment, but we have gotten better and better throughout the season which makes us all excited to see what we can do on Saturday."

Once again, like the boys 4A race, it looks to be extremely close at 2-4 between Starr's Mill, North Hall, and Lovett. These teams have not faced off against one another too much this season so it is going to be interesting to see what takes place at state. If I had to take a guess who is the favorite amongst these three teams, I would go with North Hall. They had an impressive showing at last year's state championships where they were runner-ups in 4A. This season, they earned bronze honors at the Warpath Invitational with a 20:17 average. They improved upon that result at the Wendy's Invitational where had a 20:14 average and actually finished in front of Starr's Mill. Most recently, Lovett got the best of Starr's Mill as well at Coach Wood. The Lady Panthers are a very legit team though and everyone in 4A should watch out for them. They are second in the virtual meet rankings with a team average of 20:03. Not only that, this team has followed in the footsteps of last year's stellar boys team with an emphasis of pack running. Their 1-5 split is 45.72 seconds. It is going to be a great team battle to watch, and all these ladies are set to run fast and compete! Other teams in contention include Whitewater, Westminster, and Central High School

Ga MileSplit Prediction
1. Pace
2. North Hall
3. Lovett
4. Starr's Mill