The 7A boys race was a wild ride
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:
There's a lot of pressure being the favorites for a state title from the first race of the season. There's even more pressure when you have to try to do it with two freshman who are brand new to the high school scene. Harrison was able to get the job done despite all of this pressure, but they certainly had to work for it as nobody was just going to let them have the 7A title without a challenge. This one started out as all 7A boys races do lately...with a fall and a recalled start. We should probably do something about that. Anyway, on the 2nd start the boys were off and running. And good luck trying to pick out who was the clear team up front on the first loop. It was just a pack of guys all going out as fast as they could to avoid the fall and then rolling with wherever that put them. You could pick out Harrison, but it seemed like maybe Carrollton had the early lead. Denmark was also looking strong. as they came through the halfway point things were finally beginning to take shape and while Lambert joined the fray like we all thought they would, we also saw some surprises from Marietta and Brookwood as podium contenders. I didn't peg either of them as finishing on the podium, but they were both in the mix. As they passed the two mile things finally started to develop the way we expected. Harrison had the lead and Denmark and Lambert were giving them everything they had. Marietta and Brookwood were still up while Carrollton started to fade and West Forsyth and South Forsyth started to make their moves. Ultimately it was hard to tell who had the advantage when everybody's front runners were all bunched together and anything could happen to them in that 3rd mile, so it looked like it could come down to the 5th man on this day. Denmark ended up having the best 1-2 punch in the field, but it was Harrison that took care of business at 3-4-5 to get the win 122-140. the scores were a little high this year and I think that's simply because the group was more densely crowded than other years. But the ultimate surprise came as Marietta was able to sick n the podium in 3rd place, a phenomenal showing from those boys. Lambert faded a little in that final mile but they held on for the final trophy, beating out Brookwood by just 6 points. Carrollton was 6th, South Forsyth 7, and West Forsyth 8th as the 4-8th place teams were only separated by 21 points, something that could have easily changed if 1 guy had a good or bad day. Really, you could run that race 10 times and get 10 different orders after Harrison and Denmark, that's how tightly bunched that crew was.
Individually this thing was impossible to predict. And at the mile this thing was impossible to predict. And at the two mile this thing was impossible to predict. And with 400m to go this thing was impossible to predict. This was the definition of chaos bottled up into a 5000m high school cross country race. I loved every second of watching it because there was no point I was confident in who was going to win the race. There were so many different leaders and even with only 1 kilometer to go there were still more than 10 guys who had a shot at winning. It was insanity and it's the stuff that makes for great stories. It all happened so fast, but I'm sure that each of those boys have spent all week looking back on it and talking about it amongst each other discussing the various things that could happen. So coming to the hill for the final time this thing was finally down to just a few runners - Jameson Pifer, Jackson Hogsed, and Joseph Minecci. There were a few others who still definitely had a shot with Ben Winn, Ethan Bridge, Ben Sydell, and Eli Griggs all trying to muster something to catch back up, but it seemed to be down to a pack of 3. I thought I was prepared for what was about to happen as a coach reminded me a few days before the race of just how strong of a kicker Pifer can be. So when he was right there I turned to a friend and said "this thing is over I think, Pifer's about to unleash his kick." And I have never enjoyed being wrong as much as I did in this moment. Much like in the 1A race, I expected the kid who had "more speed" to win the race and just like in the 1A race, I was wrong. Strength beats speed, folks. And Joseph Minecci was the strongest runner on the day. He passed Pifer with authority at the top of the hill and just powered away from him on the downhill like it was his plan all along. It was thrilling to watch. Hogsed, who was my personal preseason pick to win this year, actually was able to muster enough of a kick to pass Pifer in the last little bit too. What a race. What a finish. Thanks for putting on a show, gents. No disrespect to the rest of the top ten which all finished within 15 seconds of each other as Diego Fernandes, Riley Comstock and Carter Dehnke joined the others, but those top three made that one thrilling. Any of those boys could have own the race if things had gone slightly differently, and you love to see a race like that. Hats off to all of them. But I also have to give one final kudos to Minecci. I was high on him early on in my previews and then felt like he wasn't quite running what I thought he would run. so I stated cooling on him and shifting my focus elsewhere in class 7A. But he showed that all that matter is show you show up on the big day, and he was clearly ready to go. I don't know what the difference was for him exactly, but he just looked like a winner. And now he is.
So I think the Marietta ladies took some of my words personally when I claimed they didn't appear to be quite as dominant this year as they were last year in races. I stand by that, and I hope they're able to prove me wrong with a strong performance at NXR. But on Saturday, they were plenty dominant taking care of business in class 7A. This one was never in doubt as Marietta got all five ladies in before anybody else got their 2nd runner through. They left no doubt who the best team in both class 7A and all of Georgia was this year, and they look ready for more. Behind them was a great battle between their two Cobb rivals, as the county swept the top 3 places after already taking half of the trophies on the boys side. Walton and Harrison just ran back and forth the entire race. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the battle too and trying to figure out who was winning at any one point. Sometimes Walton looked to be ahead and sometimes Harrison did. In the end it was Walton who would end up runners up as the two teams were almost dead even, but Walton was just a little stronger at 3-4 on the day. Harrison had a great race though and had their 1-2 a little faster, but it just wasn't enough to hold off Walton who had a killer season this year. And the next most interesting battle was for the final podium spot. It looked to me during the race like it was a 3 team battle between Mill Creek, Richmond Hill, and Brookwood. But it turns out that Milton and West Forsyth were also in the mix and this thing was coming down to the wire. Mill Creek was able to get the job done and take 4th place because their top two girls ran lights out up front to give them the early lead and their 5th held on just enough in the final mile. Richmond hill packed it up and had the best 5th runner in the group, it just wasn't quite enough to overcome the front runners of Mill Creek. West, Milton, and Brookwood took 6-7-8 separated by only 5 total points.
Individually this thing played out almost how it was supposed to go. There was indeed a lead pack that established themselves early and Isabel Yonas was near the front doing most of the work. Marietta had their dynamic duo up there though with Mary Nesmith and Maddie Jones running well and biding their time. Jewell Wells was also up in the pack trying to make her bid for champion. And finally the last one int he pack who was expected to be there was Morgan Grace Sheffield who was waiting to make her move. Not much happened for the first 2.5 miles as they ran together most of the way, but then Nesmith began pulling away. What struck me about this move was how casual it looked for her. She was on her way to winning her first ever state cross country title and she seemed to just be out for an easy run. None of the other girls ran poorly or blew up, Nesmith was simply better. She pulled away in the last little bit of the race and put a remarkable distance on the girls all things considered. Yonas looked like she had 2nd place wrapped up but then Jones came around her at the top of the hill and then so did Wells as those two started kicking down the final stretch. In the end Wells was able to just barely get by her at the line as both girls ran 18:27. Yonas would settle for 4th and Sheffield, who ran a strong race still, faded a little bit to 5th. There was a little more movement with the rest of the top 10 as Marietta put two more girls in it with Nora Hart at 7th and Gabi Comsudes in 10th. Tess Krogman from West Forsyth moved up nicely to take 6th overall and Kennedy Wardle battled hard the whole race to place 8th as the only freshman in the top 10. Kenley Adams was able to place 9th as well, sneaking into the top 10 with a kick at the very end.