GHSA 6A State Preview: Droughts Coming To An End?

Malachi Burnett was top ten as a freshman last year, what will he do for an encore?

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Class 6A is up next in our meet preview series. Everybody knows Marist has consistently been one of the top cross country programs in the state, or at least it has been since Roy Benson took over the program more than 20 years ago. But they've gone through their ups and downs like most programs and they've been in a little bit of a drought lately compared to former teams. The boys team hasn't won a state title since 2017, which is surprising considering they won 9 of 12 from 2002 to 2013. And the girls team hasn't won while also being the top team all class since 2016 even though they dominated the top of the all class rankings for a while. This could be the year that both of those droughts end for this historic program as both looked poised to not only be the state champion, but also could be the all class state champions on both sides.

Boys Individual

Well we all know that Tommy Latham is the heavy favorite coming into this one. He's the defending champion and the only boy who broke 16 at state last a sophomore. He's also undefeated against Georgia runners this year and likely has his eyes on even bigger races in the post season. He still has to take care of business. And while there are plenty of talented boys in 6A, it's not at all a shot at them to say that Latham is on another level. He is on track to have the greatest XC career in Georgia history if he continues on his current trajectory. So now that we've established why he's the favorite, let's take a look at what's going on behind him, because there are some interesting storylines there. Malachi Burnett is the "super sophomore" of class 6A this year and could absolutely be the state runner up. He's having a similar career path to Latham, just one year behind. It seems unlikely that he can score the win, but he's got what it takes for 2nd place. Christian Jimenez is back this year after missing a large chunk of last year due to injury. He did return to have a very strong performance at state all things considered. He's been even better this year and hasn't had a race over 16:00 all season. If he continues that streak on Saturday, he should be near the front of this thing. Liam Hanemann is the 2nd man for Marist and the most likely one to also be near the front of this field, though they have 1-2 others that wouldn't shock me if they made the top 5. He's capable of a top 2 finish as well if he's on his game. Conner Proffitt gave Latham an amazing race at the state track meet last spring that I don't think anybody saw coming. So I'm definitely not going to count him out, and if there's anybody who will score the upset, it's probably him. But most likely he's racing for 2nd as well and even though his Asics race was clearly an off day, he's got more experience winning races than the rest of this group which could be helpful. Those are definitely the favorites for the top 5, but history tells us that at least once of them won't finish there, especially with how many good runners are close behind them. So here's a case for each of those runners to make a jump into the top 5. Dermot Maloney beat Jimenez at the region meet, Teddy Meredith was runner up to Latham at region, Loden Kohrman ran well at both Wingfoot and Coach Wood, and Jackson Hunter won his region meet as a freshman. After that there are likely 2-3 more guys who I haven't mentioned who will place top 10, but the list is something like 20 more people long who have a shot so we will just leave it at this for the preview.

Prediction from anonymous outside source:
1. Latham
2. Burnett
3. Hanemann
4. Proffiitt
5. Meredith

Boys Team

As you can imagine from the intro paragraph, the team favorite for this race is Marist. They've got the front runners and strength at 4-5 to get the job done. But there is one small blemish on their season and that's the fact that they had an off day at Wingfoot and lost to Blessed Trinity. It seems this was just one bad race, but never say never in cross country. Marist has the ability to dominate thanks to some excellent timing with a once in a generational talent in Latham combined with some timely transfers. They're the favorites and don't be surprised to see them finish as all class champions either, though they'll have to beat out Westminster and Harrison for that title. If there is a team that can beat Marist, it's Blessed Trinity. While Marist is having possibly their best season ever, so is BT. They also have a front runner or two with Kohrman and Timothy Cole having strong showings this year. Neither BT nor Marist ran Asics so it's hard to say which one got the fastest course this season, but Marist certainly ran stronger at Coach Wood. If BT's 4-5 can be closer and they do more damage with Kohrman and Cole than they're projected to, this could end up being a close race. As for the battle for the final two podium spots, that is anybody's guess. There are at least 6 teams who can stake a claim as the 3rd best team in 6A, so we will just have to see how it all shakes out. Creekview, North Atlanta, and Roswell look like the next best teams in the rankings while Newnan, St. Pius, and North Atlanta look like the next best in the region results merge. Anything can happen here so your prediction is as good as ours. 

Prediction from anonymous outside source:
1. Marist
2. Blessed Trinity
3. North Atlanta
4. Creekview

Girls Individual

This is an interesting one. Ruby Little has obviously been a name at the front of races for all of high school. So I doubt anybody will be surprised to see her name here and many will probably consider her to be the favorite. That's completely fair. And if she is the favorite, it's certainly been well earned from her stellar career and season, even if she missed a couple of races this year. But there are two other girls who have a very real reason to believe that they should be considered the favorite. First we have Claire Shelton who is actually the top returner in class 6A after finishing an agonizingly close 2nd place last year, only 0.58s off the win. I'm sure that has fueled her to be even better this year. And she does look better, running faster than last year at both her county and region meet. Her performance at wingfoot was also very impressive. But she lost to Little at the region meet and it wasn't very close. That being said, she was closer than she was last year as both girls were faster. So who knows what that means. Either way, Shelton should be in the mix here. But the favorite on paper is actually Katelynn Dollar. Dollar seems to peak very well for the end of the season when she's healthy, and this year she appears to be healthy. She does have the advantage of having Asics under her belt, but it's not like her other races are a disappointment as her worst finish is 6th at Wingfoot. When she's at her best, she can race with anybody so expect her to be in the mix on Saturday for sure. I'm mostly interested to see how the race dynamics play out in this one. These three girls are all very familiar with each other so I wonder how much of an influence that'll have on things. The battle for the remaining top 5 spots will likely come down to Josie Hutchinson, London Ray, and Claire Petersen who all appeared to have a good battle at their region meet. Hutchinson got the win, but both Ray and Petersen have had top finishes at the state meet in prior years. Hutchinson also got the better of them when they raced at Wingfoot. Audrey Hotard and Catherine Townsend are two other runners with experience in the front of 6A races which could serve them well heading into the state meet. And Caroline Rogers and Zoe Garcia could be fighting for important team points as well as more Marist and Pius runners. 

Prediction from anonymous outside source:
1. Dollar
2. Shelton
3. Little
4. Ray
5. Hutchinson

Girls Team

Marist is undefeated against 6A schools this season, so obviously they'll enter as the favorite. Little could win the race and their pack of 2-4 is hard for anybody to match. And like I said they'll be trying to pursue that all class title to go along with the 6A title. The only potential weakness for them is at the 5 spot, but with how strong their 1-4 are, it might not matter in the end as they could have such a big lead that nobody can catch them. But St. Pius X and Blessed Trinity will both give it their best shots. All 3 of these girls teams have been good for years now, and not just in 6A but in All Classes. Blessed Trinity has more front runners with Petersen and Ray than Pius has with Garcia, but they'll both need to get better at 4-5 if they want a shot at this. Anything can happen on this course though and it'll be interesting to see how they all race each other since they actually don't line up at too many spots. They'll each have to run their own race and sort it out at the finish line. After the big three there are a few schools who are lurking and ready to pounce if any of them have a bad day. Pope appears to be the most likely team to be the next best based on their season times and region performances. Hutchinson could get them an early low stick that could be the difference. But Gainesville is not much different and is just as likely to be on the podium with a stronger 3rd runner despite not being quite as strong at 1. They do match up well enough that it should be a good race. Sequoyah, Alexander, John's Creek, and Creekview are all lurking though and ready to go after a podium spot as well. 

Prediction from anonymous outside source:
1. Marist
2. Pius
3. Blessed Trinity
4. Pope