Is it time for Isabel Yonas to win her first state title?
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Oh my, here we go, "The Big Dawg" of them all. You know exactly what I am talking about. 7A. In the closing chapter of Georgia's largest classification that has ever existed, we might see some of the most epic racing in the state's history. I am sad to see 7A split up next cross country season; however, I am grateful that we get to see what should be two fantastic races that should bring fast times and high dramatics. There are returning individual champions on the girls and boys side and what could be the most challenging races to earn a podium spot ever. Set your alarms and get out to Carrollton for the early morning start because you are not going to want to miss an absolute thriller of racing.
There are way too many names to list and there is NO KNOWING who is going to be winning this one. I spoke with some coaches before writing this preview, and they were saying that there are about ten to fifteen names who could win it all and about twenty to thirty boys who could earn podium spots. Last year, the 10th fastest time in 7A boys going into the state meet was 15:34.01. This season it is 15:29.22 by Clint Huggins. This really is the deepest this field has ever been. It is going to be the most challenging race ever in Georgia history to earn a spot at the podium.
"There are like ten guys who could take the win," commented Harrison High School's Coach Jason Scott. "Carrollton is a tough place to win. Jameson Pifer and Noah Martinson seem to be the two that come to mind. So, it'll be very interesting to see if, and when, someone takes the initiative to break away, or if it comes down to the last 400 meters."
Seriously though, nobody knows how this race is going to go. Knowing 7A, I see the boys going out at a blitzing fast pace. You never know though, and as Coach Scott says, Carrollton is a tough place to win. Now, let's talk about the key players.
The first name to watch for is Richmond Hill's Memphis Rich. The coastal Georgia native was last year's 7A individual champion, and he returns to try to reclaim his title. Rich usually races in more low-key meets to start the season. His two most notable races include a 15:16.62 personal best at ASICS and a 15:47.00 at the New World Fall Spectacular where he raced against Florida's best. Keep in mind that his ASICS performance is almost 15 seconds faster than what he ran last season. He and his teammate, Noah Sybert, are currently ranked 6th and 7th in the virtual meet based on their personal bests. They may be "flatlanders", however, they have proven in the past that they can manage Carrollton hills with ease.
Our next stop in our 7A preview tour around Georgia is Gwinnett County. Gwinnett has traditionally been the "powerhouse" of Georgia cross country with all-American names such as Kirubel Erassa and Girma Mecheso leading the way. This year, Mill Creek's Eli Griggs leads the way in the 7A personal best category with his 15:07 from ASICS. Griggs spent a year away in California, and he has returned to prove to the rest of the state that he is still the best. Other key performances this year include runner-up finishes at his county and region meet as well as a top fifteen finish at Coach Wood. Even though his personal best is two seconds off of Griggs, Collins Hill's Jameson Pifer is a serious threat for the state title. Pifer has had himself an amazing season. He got wins over Griggs at county and region, ran his personal best of 15:09 at ASICS to place 5th, and most impressively got a runner-up finish at Coach Wood. The "sophomore sensation" had a performance at Coach Wood that was especially impressive, it showed him at his best. Pifer is one of the best all-class. For a miler during track season, he has significantly improved his distance range. He also has a lethal kick that is going to give any runner trouble in the final 200 meters at Carrollton. Other Gwinnett names to keep an eye on are Kaleb Tesfaye, Haydn Hermansen, and Alexander Thompson.
Next, we are going up north to Forsyth County. In recent years, Forsyth County has been one of the most competitive counties in the state. This year is no different, and there are three big names from Forsyth who are vying for first place. Ben Sydell has the fastest time in the county with his 15:13 from ASICS. Sydell started off his season a bit more low-key; however, ever since ASICS, he has really started to find his groove. I think his most impressive performance was his 15:23 win at region. Sydell is also a podium returner so he knows how to run well at Carrollton. Fun fact: Sydell's freshman cross country personal best,19:33.97. WHAT A MAJOR IMPROVEMENT! Also watch for Sydell's teammate, Ethan Bridge. Second to Sydell at region was Jackson Hogsed of Lambert. Hogsed is the #1 returner for 7A in the 3200 with his 9:17 from Wingfoot. He has shown improvement and has run consistently this year. He set a new personal best of 15:27 at Great American and if you average out his last three 5Ks, his time is sub 15:30. Hogsed is quick and a tough runner for anyone to challenge. Finally, there is Ben Winn of South Forsyth. Winn had himself an epic day at Wingfoot where he ran his personal best of 15:30. He was the second fastest Georgia runner in the field, holding off Hogsed at the line. Not only that, he also has a top ten finish at Coach Wood and got a win at the Milton Invitational where the course was very challenging. He was third to Sydell and Hogsed at region. I said it earlier, Forsyth County is deep. Other quick names from this county are Diego Fernandes, Parker Chase, and Reid Latimer.
The final county to talk about is Cobb County. This county has represented three of the last five boys team state championships, including last year with Marietta's upset win. This year, Cobb is even faster than last year, partly thanks to a trio of Harrison boys. One of those names and the fastest boy in the county this season, is the "freshman phenom", Riley Comstock. In a short time, Comstock has proven himself to be the greatest freshman of all time in Georgia cross country history. That title was held last year by Aaron Brodrick, and Comstock has run almost fifteen seconds faster than Brodrick had as a freshman. It is astounding to see how well Comstock has competed at the high school level after being an absolute beast in middle school. His current personal best is 15:16.39, where he had a top ten finish at the prestigious Jesse Owens Classic in Alabama. He also got first in his county and region meet, and has already raced at Carrollton where he finished close to Lambert's Jackson Hogsed at OrthoWest. He is a very legit talent; do not be surprised if he earns himself an upset win this Saturday. Comstock has been pushed throughout the season by his teammates Clint Huggins and fellow freshman Sam Comsudes. They each have personal bests of 15:29.22 and 15:30.60. Huggins most recently finished in front of Comstock at Coach Wood and he was very close to him at the region meet. The Hoya trio are going to be pushing one another at Carrollton and making anyone else hurt who tags along with them. Joseph Minecci of Walton is another very talented Cobb County athlete who can bring the pain this Saturday. He is a top ten state returner and runner-up at the county meet. Keep an eye out for Evan Grundmeyer of Marietta as well.
Finally, we get to the hometown hero, Mr. Noah Martinson. Last season, Martison was the 7A state leader based off of time going into the state meet. Unfortunately, he was not able to perform as well as he wanted due to an ailment. No ailment is not going to stop him at state. Martinson is returning with a vengeance. He has proven that he can race extremely well on his home course this season with his fast 15:49.92 at OrthoWest. Not only that, he also basically tied his personal best of 15:09 early in the season and he most recently won his region meet. Martinson has serious grit and he likes to take out the race fast to make the other runners hurt. He is joined alongside his podium contending teammates, Hagan Russell, Nour Nazim, and Braven Davis.
I do not want to miss other noteworthy names, so here are the last few. There is so much talent in 7A that deserves to be recognized such as Seth Grogan, Solomon Mussie, and Carter Dehnke. I am telling you, this race is going to be insane!
GA MileSplit prediction:
It looks to be the "Hoya Show" this Saturday. Harrison High School has been very impressive all-year. It certainly helps having two of the state's best freshmen of all-time and a wealth of other talent. They have already run at Carrollton and showed that they can run well on hills with their strong 16:49 average. The team also made two out of state trips to Florida and Alabama where they earned a victory and a runner-up finish at the prestigious Jesse Owens Classic. Overall, their season average based off of personal bests is 15:45. This group is very competitive and they certainly know how to push themselves with a 1-5 gap of sixty seconds even. Aside from their runner-up finish at Coach Wood, the Hoyas have not lost to any other Georgia teams. The Hoyas are also probably going to be chasing times to achieve the all-class state championship to prove they are the best cross country team in Georgia.
"Our goal is simple, do what we've done all season long," Coach Scott said. "Run as a team. If we do that, we should be capable of a victory."
There are three other teams that could be a serious threat to the Hoyas. Denmark High School's "Dane Nation" is going to bring the pressure to the Hoyas. They raced well at Carrollton where they ran a 16:55 average to place 4th overall and second amongst 7A teams. The Danes also won both the Warpath Invitational and the Atlanta Classic. Even though they are only 4th in the virtual meet, the Danes have not lost to any other 7A teams the entire year besides Harrison. They have had to deal with very narrow victories against the next two teams though. Lambert was only two points shy of winning the region meet against Denmark with a quick team average of 16:21. Their team average was actually faster than Denmark's, which was 16:25. They had a slow start; however, when the Longhorns bring their "A game," they are one of the best in the state. At Wingfoot, they were the second best Georgia team in a highly competitive field. Carrollton was also close to beating the Danes. At ASICS, they were a slim nine points off of the Danes to be the second best Georgia team in the field. Based off of personal bests, they are the fastest overall team in the state. Their 5K average is a fast 15:43.05. They are more familiar with the state meet course than anyone else so they can be very dangerous.
Other teams in podium contention are South Forsyth, West Forsyth, Mill Creek, Richmond Hill, Parkview, and Marietta High School.
Ga MileSplit Prediction:
The 7A girls race has all of the elements to be an instant classic. This field is extremely competitive, there are quite a few girls who could take the title. It is also going to be a very challenging race to earn a podium spot. Last season, the fifth best time going into the state meet was 18:19.27. This season, it is 18:06.30, quite the jump if you ask me. It is going to be a highly competitive race and should be one of the best Georgia girls races of all time!
Speaking of that fifth best time, it was set early in the season by the defending 7A girls state champion, Harrison High School's Samantha McGarity. Last season, she annihilated those Carrollton hills to run an amazing time of 18:34.91. That was the #1 time of the day and helped contribute to her receiving Gatorade Georgia girls cross country runner of the year honors. At her best, McGarrity is one of the strongest runners I have ever seen; she has great determination to put the hurt on anyone who tries to hang around with her. She ran the Carrollton course earlier this season at OrthoWest where she ran a strong 18:23. She has been missing in action the last few weeks; however, if she races, she is absolutely in contention to repeat her title defense and it will be a major boost for her teammates. Two other Cobb County runners who deserve recognition here are Yolanda Brooks and Julia Betton.
Now, we cannot talk about Cobb County without mentioning Marietta High School. They are led by three girls in the top ten of the virtual meet. First among those girls is Mary Nesmith. In her second year of competitive running, Mary has done very well for herself. The sophomore was third in her season debut at OrthoWest, earned herself a quick new personal best at ASICS, and won her region meet. This is an improvement from last season where she got fifth at the state meet. Nesmith is a very resilient runner and can be dangerous no matter where the race takes place. If you need evidence of this, go look at her most recent track accolades where she propelled her team by winning all three individual distance races and the 4x800. Nesmith is not going to be alone, she is joined by her teammates, Maddie Jones and Nora Hart. Maddie Jones was last year's individual runner-up, and is an athlete with a ton of grit. While she has dealt with some injury issues, they have not prevented her from setting a new personal best of 18:16 at ASICS and running well throughout the season. She was third at her county meet and improved her time to finish second at her region meet on the same course. Nora Hart also set a personal best at ASICS with an 18:25. This is a significant improvement, she ran 18:45 over the same course last season. Not only that, she had an impressive top five performance at her county meet and earned bronze honors at region. Hart was 7th at last year's state championship and she is looking to improve upon that result with her teammates. All I am saying is these ladies went 1-2-3 in the state 3200, so watch out for them. Do not forget about their talented teammates Gabi Comsudes and Colette Depasquale either.
Moving over to the traditional powerhouse of Gwinnett County, we have the #1 7A girls time of the season of 17:50 set by Jewell Wells of Mill Creek High School. McGuyver must have given Wells some magical superpowers and she must have put in an immense amount of work given what an excellent season she has been having! Some honors include a win at her county meet, top ten finish at ASICS, and a bronze medal at Coach Wood. Her personal best from last season was 19:04 at ASICS... MAJOR IMPROVEMENT! While she missed her region meet, you can guarantee that she is a threat for the title. Her fast teammate, Evelyn Schlitz, is currently 9th in the virtual meet with her time of 18:34. Schlitz was 4th at her county meet and top thirty at both ASICS and Coach Wood. Another Gwinnett duo to keep an eye on is Kennedy Wardle and Lauren Thisdale of Gwinnett. Wardle follows in the footsteps of her older sister as a talented runner in the 7A field. Together, these two have earned top five honors at their county meet, top thirty finishes at Coach Wood, and went 1-2 at their region meet. Emily Rodriguez of Norcross just missed rising to the podium last season at 12th; however, she returns to secure her spot. She has competed well this season including a bronze medal at her county meet, a top thirty finish at Coach Wood, and a win at her region meet.
Finally, we look to Forsyth County. Leading the charge has been someone who has been competing extremely well in the later part of the season. Of course I am talking about the outstanding Isabel Yonas. The South Forsyth senior has been running well all season; however, it is her last two races that have really been her defining moments. Most impressive was her 18:17 runner-up finish at Coach Wood. She then followed that up with a win at her region meet in 18:03. This is a new personal best and puts her 4th in the virtual meet. Luckily, Yonas has her older sister and former state champion, Georgia Tech athlete Carmel Yonas, to teach her how to win in amazing fashion at Carrollton. Isabel has really made a name for herself this season, and has proven that she is one of the best overall athletes in the state, and can compete at the highest level when it matters most. The other major Forsyth name to keep an eye on is Morgan Grace Sheffield. She has been having a very consistent season which includes three runner-up finishes at elite invitationals such as Warpath and Atlanta Classic. Not only that, she was 5th at OrthoWest which shows she can compete well at Carrollton, set a new personal best of 17:58.35 which puts her at third in the virtual meet, and was second at her region meet to Yonas. Third at that meet was Kenley Adams of Lambert who ran a personal best of 18:50. She has been finding her stride later in the season.
Keep an eye out for Julia Anastasio of Richmond Hill. She is only a freshman and has run some very impressive times. She ran 18:27.27 which makes her the fastest freshman in the state as well as top ten in the virtual meet. Other notable names are Ella Grace Malcom, Tess Krogman, Isabel Wilson, Kendall Johnson, Mallory Old, and Peyton Reeves.
Ga. MileSplit Prediction:
One of the best teams in Georgia history returns to build their dynasty. Pinstripe shorts and checkerboard navy singlets, Marietta epitomizes swagger and they show it at every course they compete at. Coach Coleman has built a winning program and they are looking to win their fourth state championship in a row. Yes, that is a whole academic cycle of state championship wins at the largest classification in the state. The team has done very well for themselves this season. They achieved their fastest team average of 18:39 at ASICS and the only time they lost to a Georgia team was at North Carolina's Great American. They barely lost and were within nine points. Similar to last year's talented squad, there is an emphasis on pack running. Even though the talented Mary Nesmith leads the team, their 1-5 gap is a slim 1:16.35. They are going to want to show the state once again, they are the best in the state and are undoubtedly looking to claim the "all-class" state title.
"The team has had a successful season winning both the Cobb County Championship and the Region Championship," Coach Coleman said. "It's never easy to win a state championship and we don't take anything for granted. Our hope is the team can put together their best race of the season, as a group, and win a fourth consecutive championship."
Marietta is joined by two other talented Cobb County teams, Harrison and Walton. Harrison's key performances include third place at OrthoWest and a win out in Florida. When the Lady Hoyas are at their full strength, they are a serious threat to Marietta. OrthoWest showed they are capable of managing Carrollton well and they are ranked second in the virtual meet with a 19:15 average. Walton has the third best average in 7A at 19:30.99. They were runner-ups at their county meet, ran very well at Wingfoot to be first amongst 7A team, and won their region meet convincingly sweeping ALL FIRST SEVEN SPOTS! WOW! This is a legit team looking to improve upon their podium finish of fourth place from last season. Finally, we have Gwinnett County rivals Mill Creek and Brookwood who are 4th and 5th in the virtual meet. These two teams have had some close races. At the county meet they were only separated by six points, and they is only a five point margin between the two teams in the virtual meet. It is going to likely be a competition of county bragging rights to earn that final podium spot in what is going to be an epic team battle.
Some other teams to look out for are Richmond Hill, West Forsyth, Milton, Carrollton, Hillgrove, and Parkview.
Ga MileSplit Prediction:
4. Mill Creek