GHSA 5A State Preview: Close Team Battles Start State Meet

Grace Danser is the top returner, but is she the favorite?

Don't forget to check out the state meet hub as it gets updated with results merges, rankings, meet previews, live results and full coverage of the 2023 GHSA state Cross Country Championships:

State Meet Hub

Class 5A is up next in our meet preview series. Last year they were the last race of the meet and it led to quite a bit of drama as the races unfolded. But this year they get to go first and should have near perfect racing weather. So does that mean things will go according to plan this year? Is there even a plan when the races look to be this close?

Boys Individual

For the individual title, Jacob Pullen has to be considered the favorite. Not only does he have the fastest PR in the field, he also is undefeated against 5A competitors this year. He's also already racked up 6 total wins this season so he knows how to win a race. And yet, I think it's just a little too early to crown him just yet. Don't get me wrong, he's the favorite, but there are two runners who I want to highlight as having a chance of taking the win too. Chris Connolly is the only runner in the field who already has won a state title, having won the 1600m crown this past spring. He was not that far behind Pullen when they raced at Asics, so all it takes is a slightly better peak and he could be your champion as we know he's got a good kick too. And I also want to consider Malachi Vosburgh as having a shot at the win too. He was close to Pull at Wingfoot and Ortho and could also be a little fresher having raced fewer times this year. State is different and you often see a pack emerge even if there isn't supposed to be one. I see these 3 as being in the lead pack. The chase pack consists of six very good runners who could all believe they're capable of a top 5 finish, or perhaps more. There's not really a favorite in that group as they've all run some fast courses but you imagine Ben Davis is the one with the most confidence given the amount of top 5 finishes he has this year. You've also got Johnny McCarthy and Matthew Coates who are basically dead even coming into this thing. Anything can happen in that situation. You've also got Finn and William Herlihy who are actually identical and often finishes races very close to each other. And last, but not least, you have Jackson Musto who also broke 16 this year and could be a major player in this race. 

Ga Milesplit Prediction:
1. Pullen
2. Vosburgh
3. Connolly
4. Finn Herlihy
5. Davis

Boys Team

This race was incredibly thrilling last year and Clarke Central almost pulled off the surprise upset. And they would almost certainly be the favorites for the win this year, but they've been without their top runner, Beck Wolf-Hardy, since their first race. Maybe he will be back for state but even if he is it's unlikely he will repeat his 3rd place finish from last year. It could still give them the boost they need to pull off the win. They were still region champions over a Jefferson team that has been very strong, and better than I can remember them being in a long time. Clarke central was also actually faster at their region this year than they were last year, so definitely keep an eye on them tomorrow morning. They've been led by Waylon Vaughn this year but don't count out James Daniel who clearly had an off day at region and was almost top 10 at state last year as a freshman. Speaking of Jefferson, they've had a pretty big year, their biggest race probably being Wingfoot when they mixed it up with some really good teams from other classes. They'll have Davis up front and have a tight enough 2-5 pack that they can definitely get the job done. But if you're only paying attention to times, the favorite coming in has to be Chattahoochee. They've definitely had the benefit of faster courses compared to Clarke Central and Jefferson, but they've made the most of it too. And Connolly could definitely win this thing giving them the ultimate low stick up front. They don't really have a weakness, so they should come in with a lot of confidence. And last, but certainly not least, there is a fourth team who can truly make a case as the team who can win it all. Greenbrier comes in as the 2nd best team on paper. They were very close to Chattahoochee when they raced at Asics and that gap could have easily been close in the last month of the season. Musto could move up higher into the top ten and their 2-4 are probably the strongest in the field. I've always loved the quote saying "the first man gets the glory, but the 5th man wins the race" but I'm not sure it's true. I've often read that statistically speaking the team with the best 3rd and 4th runners wins the race. If that's true, then this thing could go to Greenbrier. None of these four teams truly have a weakness and all of them appear to be ready for state. This is going to be a heck of a race and your guess at the outcome is just as good as mine. It's ultimately going to come down to who wants it more on that 2nd loop. Combine that with the fact that Cambridge, Jones County, Union Grove, Maynard Jackson, and Chapel Hill should all fee a little slighted being left out of the conversation for the podium and we've got an amazing race ready to kick off the 2023 state meet. Get out the popcorn for this one folks.

Ga MileSplit Prediction:
1. Clarke Central
2. Chattahoochee
3. Greenbrier
4. Jefferson

Girls Individual

Well if there was ever a race where you could just run down the MileSplit rankings to figure out the favorites, it's this one. The entire top 10 girls in the 5A rankings set their PR's at Asics this year. So you'd think predicting the top 10 would be as easy as just listing those names in order. But it's never that simple in XC, is it? Because the Decatur girls ran coach wood instead and that course didn't run as fast this year so they're underrated. Natalie Tully still comes in as the favorite though. She didn't get to race at state last year and has clearly been on a mission this season because of it. She's got the fastest PR in the group and has some top finishes including a win at the Atlanta Classic over multiple girls behind her. The one blemish on her season was placing 5th at region, but I suspect she was just making sure she qualified by finishing top 6 rather than racing all out. Sanam Rangaraj sits behind her in the rankings, but she won the region meet showing that there's nobody in 5A that she CAN'T beat. It's certainly possible the race comes down to these two girls in the final kilometer, but there are several others who will disagree with that. Effie Ward also won her region meet and looks ready to go while Grace Danser did as well while also being the top returning girl from last year's state meet. Either of these girls could find themselves right up front in the 3rd mile. And Decatur has Sophie D'Elena and Margaret Welp who each had pretty strong seasons as well and could very much be in the conversation for the individual title. Odds our your champion will be one of those 6 girls but don't completely count out other top performers like Regina Michel Camacho, Paula Sandoval, Noelle Sullivan, Helen Miller, Lauren Skeens, and Gabriella Burton

Ga MileSplit Prediction:
1. Tully
2. Rangaraj
3. D'Elena
4. Welp
5. Danser

Girls Team

This is a REALLY interesting team battle. I mostly see it as a 3 team race, but I'm not ruling out Chattahoochee, Greenbrier, Harris County, or Cambridge as potential teams to score an upset here. But let's start with the 3 teams I see as the favorites. McIntosh is one of those girls programs that has been good for a long time, but seems to get a little unlucky going up against really good teams for a state title and coming up a little short. they do have four team titles including recent ones in 2017 and 2019, but I always felt like they should have more with how good they consistently are. Thems the breaks I suppose. Sullivan leads the way for these girls, and while they haven't done anything that jumps out as a clear and obvious top performance in 5A, they've been consistent all season long and have a solid lead over the field in the region results merge. Northview is a team that looks great on paper. They had a monster day at Asics which has them sitting comfortably on top of the team rankings, and they have a top four that will be hard for anybody to match. The only potential weakness they have is at the 5th runner spot but that might not matter with Camacho, Sandoval, Skeens, and Burton so far up in the field. Northview hasn't won since their back to back titles in 2013 and 2014 but this team looks the part, that's for sure. And finally the last of the big 3 is our defending champions in Decatur who won the school's first state title last year. They're not going down without a fight and they clearly didn't chase the fast times that other teams did this year. D'elena and Welp are their leaders, but they got a perfect score at their region meet and if Anna Blaich can return to the form that saw her finish 4th here last year, then they'll be very dangerous and perhaps too much up front for anybody else to overcome. They could very possibly have the best 4th and 5th runners in the field, which would be enough to get the job done at the end of the day. It's be a really exciting race and any of these teams could come away with the win.

Ga MileSplit Prediction:
1. Northview
2. Decatur
3. McIntosh
4. Greenbrier