The 5A boys race was a very exciting team battle
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:
This was previewed as the most exciting classification coming into the weekend and it did not disappoint. There was less certainty in 5A than any other classification I think. And the boys team race was probably the most exciting part. And it did not disappoint at all as it was a thrilling race that saw many changes throughout. There were five teams in this race who all had a chance to win the race at one point. It seemed like Cambridge took it personally that I did not predict them to be on the podium. When the athletes came through the mile it was obvious the bears were winning the race. They got out quick and looked like they wanted to make a statement. All of the contenders were in the race at this point still, but it did look like Clarke Central was probably in 2nd place while Chattahoochee, Jefferson, and Greenbrier were all sitting back at this point. As the race continued, the teams started to even up a little more. At the halfway and at the two mile it was nearly impossible to tell who was winning unless you were able to do math like Rain Man. When the approached the final hill things because a little more clear. Clarke Central was giving everybody all they could handle, despite being without their top returner from last year's meet. In the end they just didn't quite have enough and had to settle for 3rd place. But it's worth noting that without a stress fracture to their top runner, they likely would have been the class 5A champions. You hate to see a team lose because of that, but they deserve huge props for showing up and going for it anyway. It almost worked out. Jefferson moved up the most during this race as they appeared to be buried during the first mile. But Carrollton is always kind to those who wait, even on this faster layout. Patience pays off on this course and Jefferson definitely showed that as they came roaring back during the second half of that race. Cambridge and Clarke Central came back to them and they passed both during the second half. Unfortunately for them, it wasn't quite enough on the day as they had to settle for 2nd place overall. Because it turns out that Chattahoochee was also patient early on in this race and worked their way up through the field. And while Jefferson ended up having the faster 5th runner, it was obvious on the final hill that Chattahoochee had the lead through four runners. If they could hold on well enough at the 5 spot, they were going to be state champions. And that's exactly what happened as freshman Sam Rehberg stepped up for them to have his best race of the season and get the job done on the day, winning by 7 points over Jefferson. the top 5 teams were all separated by a grand total of 43 points, so this really could have been anybody's race to win. All it took was one kid to have a big day or one kid to get sick and have an off day and the outcome would have been different. You gotta love races like that as it leads to a ton of excitement. Cambridge would hold off Greenbrier for the final podium spot, but all five of these teams deserve a shoutout for a great race.
Individually Jacob Pullen came into this race as the only favorite that I was actually confident in. He rewarded me with that faith in him as he took the lead early and never let it go, slowly pulling away from all of his competitors as the race dragged on. He just seemed to be stronger than anybody else in the race, and he backed up his very strong season with a state title. Behind him, Chris Connolly went for it as he pursued Pullen the whole way. But Connolly just couldn't quite get there with Pullen and would end up being 2nd place overall. James Daniel led a group of Clarke central kids in pursuit early, but Daniel is the only one who was able to stick it in the end. He was still rewarded with a 3rd place finish though. Ben Davis from Jefferson sat back early in this race and ran for his team as he moved up through the field to take 4th place. And Jeremiah McGaw ran a monster race to help Chattahoochee place two in the top five scorers giving them an early lead in the team scoring. McGaw is probably the hero of the day for Chattahoochee as he ran a season PR, even faster than Asics, at state.
This was another really close team race and coming in I could have seen any one of the big three winning. It was either going to come down to who was hiding the most during the season or who had the better day at state. In the end I think that Decatur fits into both categories. They didn't go chase times this year so it was a little harder to read them coming in. But they also just ran a very patient team race and ended up looking so strong during the 3rd mile as they moved up very well. Early on in this race it was actually Cambridge who looked like they had the lead, but that eventually gave way to Northview who definitely had girls up and were looking to lead this thing and pull away from Decatur and McIntosh who were sitting back the first mile. It looked like Decatur made the first move and McIntosh just followed their lead, but both teams moved up really well throughout this race. Decatur was strong up front and had the depth to be too much for anybody else. And even though Northview had runners up early running well together as they had all year, they began to fade as McIntosh charged hard in the 3rd mile. McIntosh earned the 2nd place trophy and a very strong Northview team would have to settle for 3rd. Cambridge initially had 4th in the results, but as the timers sorted it all out it turns out that Chattahoochee was able to do enough to go home with the final trophy as they finished two points ahead of Cambridge and 6 points ahead of Harris Co. Ultimately this was a thrilling race that was fun to watch it all develop. The 6A and 7A races were fun to watch for obvious reasons as we had top teams competing for titles and more depth than you get in the lower classes. But in terms of sheer overall entertainment value, I'll take the 5A team races all day. Both boys and girls races were deep enough that you had to follow your strategy, but they weren't so crowded that it was impossible to follow along. As long as you knew the contenders coming in, it made it easy to pay attention to the team scores as they changed throughout the race.
Individually this thing did not go the way I thought it would. And that's great! the best thing about the state cross country meet is the uncertainty of it all. And if you've read my other previews you've noticed that is definitely something of a theme. But this one had plenty of uncertainty coming in. And other than 7A boys, I'm not sure there's a race I was less sure of than this one. But one thing that was kind of cool about this race was that the top 3 girls all started together and finished as the top 3 girls and ran that way the whole race. Sanam Rangaraj was on a mission from the start of this thing. She took it out quick and only Sophie D'Elena and Effie Ward were able to cover the fast early pace. And really, that's pretty much how they looked the entire race. Those girls ran 1-2-3 the whole way and just slowly pulled away from the field as they also stretched out each other finishing in 18:36, 18:46, and 19:00. The battle for fourth was interesting though as Paula Sandoval pushed the pace early and Noelle Sullivan sat back and moved up. they ended up swapping place in the with Sullivan in 4th and Sandoval in 5th. This was one of the faster girls races of the weekend which was a fun way to kick off the meet.