Watch Joseph Jacquot run the top time of the meet
The 2023 GHSA State championships are unfortunately over. But since we just can't get enough of amazing XC races, let's take the week to recap what happened at the meet. Also, don't forget to check out the state meet hub for full coverage of the meet including results, photos, and videos. Or go back to the preview articles to see just how accurate (or inaccurate) the predictions were:
The Westminster boys came into this meet as the heavy favorites and they absolutely delivered, even if they got a slight scare early on from Clarkston. Westminster front runners not only went 1-2-4 in the race, they ran some fast times in the heat. In fact Joseph Jacquot ran the top time of the entire meet. Westminster came into this season with high expectations as likely the best team in school history. But they got off to a slow start this season, I think due to injuries, and were not at full strength until mid October at Coach Wood. But when they finally got all of the pieces assembled they showed that they really are the best team in program history. This is primarily because of their front runners who did not disappoint on Saturday. Jacquot took the early lead with Esfan Daya and brother Jacob Jacquot close behind. They ran a typical Westminster state race, controlling it from the front and just out lasting their opponents with the fast pace. It'll be interesting to see if this team pursues bigger and better things in the post season or not. And while Westminster deserves all of the praise they get for this season and this performance, I don't think you can understate just how well Clarkston ran on this day. They went for it against the heavy favorites and that alone is admirable. Most teams would race for second place, but Clarkston was not content to just settle. They had guys up fighting the entire first loop. And while they would eventually fade on the 2nd loop, they still held on for a very strong 2nd place performance, despite going out very hard. That can sometimes bury you on this course so I'm impressed by how well they held on. In fact they even put their 5th man in front of the Westminster 5th man, which shows that if they'd been able to get a little more luck on their side up front (their top runner faded the 3rd mile) then maybe they could have stolen this thing. But they did manage to hold off two hard charging teams in Starrs Mill and Pace Academy. Pace had better front runners, but Starrs Mill was able to show that depth is still important in cross country and their 4-5 made the difference for them as they claimed 3rd place while Pace took 4th.
Individually this was the most impressive performance of the entire weekend. Joseph Jacquot has raced twice this year. I know we hype up the regular season quite a bit, and we should as there are several indicators for post season success laid out over the course of the season. But why even have a state meet if we're not going to hype it up as by far the most important race? Well, it's clearly all that mattered to Jacquot this season as he blitzed the course in the fastest time of the entire weekend. He led wire to wire and went for it from the gun. I would be a little less impressed with his performance if he'd had much better conditions than everybody else, but he ran his race in almost the hottest conditions on the day and still out performed everybody. Truly masterful and he is my current front runner for Gatorade athlete of the year because of it. Hopefully he ends up doing one of the national meets and shows that this one race wasn't a fluke. Behind Jacquot we actually saw a very strong pack that included his teammate Daya, brother Joseph, and Bryant Young from North Hall. These 3 athletes gave chase along with the top Clarkston runner at the time. But Jacquot was just too much and the hot pace ultimately proved too much for anybody else to handle and the race strung out after that. It turned into a war of attrition as Jacquot pulled away. Daya was able to hold on for a strong 2nd place and sub 16 performance while Young turned in an impressive 16:10. Jacob faded the most as he was only barely able to hold on to 4th place in 16:24. Chasing him down was a pack that included Diego Ramos, Matthew Wells, and Iliyan Hajiani. Ramos proved to be the strongest of the 3 and ended up taking the 5th spot in the race while Wells and Hajiani went 6-7 almost 10 seconds later.
Well this team race was settled almost immediately and provided very little drama at any point in terms of who was going to come away as the victor. Pace Academy girls have been the top team in 4A all year and proved that was the case again on Saturday. They went 1-2-3 and put all five scorers in the top 15 leaving no doubt who was the best on the day. They also return 4/5 next year and have a solid freshman in 6th who finished 24th for them. So expect them to open the season as the early favorites of their classification next fall. Things didn't go quite according to plan for them though, but more on that later. The real excitement in the team battle came for the runner up trophy. It was obvious early on in the race that 3 teams were in this thing from the start as Starrs Mill, North Hall, and Lovett all did battle for 3.1 miles of this thing. There was one point when I thought North Hall was gone, only for Lovett to all of a sudden start looking good. And then I had to go back and recount Starrs Mill because they looked good. It was just a back and forth affair that was alot of fun to watch. In the end Starrs Mill prevailed as runner up, the main thing separating them being their strong 5th runner being well clear of the other two. But North Hall gave them a fight and it was within a couple of points through 4 runners. Lovett did their best to hold on, and ran really well 1-3, but ultimately couldn't quite match the other two at 4-5.
Individually, Caroline Hood came in as a heavy favorite for this thing. She was undefeated against Georgia runners all season and it didn't look like there was anybody who could truly challenge her except maybe her own teammate Zahara Bernal. Well, that's why we run the race...Hood took the lead early as expected and opened up fairly quick. It wasn't anything significantly faster than others had gone earlier in the race, but she was clearly trying to put up the top time of the meet based on her early pace. I didn't notice any struggled until the hill after the 2 mile. She seemed to have a tough time making her way up that thing and slowed considerably. She had a big lead at this point so she still seemed destined to win the race, but you could tell something was wrong. She was hurting, and Bernal was running faster up that same hill. Would it be enough time to catch her? It turns out that yes, Bernal had the strength and the distance left in the race to go and beat Hood. Bernal captured her first state title and ran on of the faster times of the weekend in the process, even in the heat. Hood was also caught by her other teammate Olivia Resnick who finished runner up, 10 seconds ahead of Hood. Now I will say that I've seen situations like this before where the runner wasn't able to finish, so Hood gets credit for still getting across the line and helping lead her team to the win. And I will also say that one clearly off day never defines you as a runner. You are more than just one bad race. And I'm sure we all expect Hood to bounce back and be fine in the post season. But there's also something to be said for being able to be the best at measuring yourself on the day. And that's exactly why Bernal earned this individual state title. Clodagh O'Bryant and Mary Parrish Green also did an excellent job measuring themselves on this day as they fought all the way to the line for 4th place. In the end O'Bryant barely edged out Green for 4th as they both ran 19:28.