GHSA Class 2A,3A,4A,5A,6A XC State Championship Previews


                                                                Super Class 6A State Preview  by Coach Ronnie Brown     

                                                                                    6A Boys Team


      We entered the season with no clear picture as to whether or not one team would stand out this year, and 11 weeks later it’s still not clear who is the best.  But that will of course change on Saturday.  Marietta, Mill Creek and Norcross have hovered in the top 3 spots most of the season, and even Milton had an early #1 ranking.  Parity has been the name of the game this year at the top of Georgia’s largest classification.

      But as Coach Wood came and went and as October closed, it seemed like Marietta’s momentum was gathering, and they enter Saturday at least as a 50/50 favorite to take the title.  With the super duo up front of Jake Bagwell and Ben Pleak, they’ll score low up front and then rely on their 3-4-5 guys to provide support on the back end.

     Mill Creek came into the season a little off the radar screen, but quickly turned heads with big early wins at Berry and Gwinnett County.  It’s their 3-4-5 spots that have been the big surprises, and that’s where the race will be hardest fought on Saturday.  We all know how Coach Christie’s Hawks “won” last year by taking 2nd, but this could be the year win they really do win the Big Prize.  

      But while the M&M show will be the headliner Saturday, Norcross also provides another solid chance for Gwinnett County to extend its streak of state titles.  They ran dead even with Mill Creek at Coach Wood, and have posted a series of top-3 finishes in quality meets this year.

      Ah, Brookwood.  Would anybody be surprised to see them step up and steal the show Saturday?  Although they fielded a very good squad this year, they haven’t had their usual dominance that we’ve seen over the last half-decade.  But Carrollton-Saturdays have a way of inspiring young legs and lungs and hearts, and history has shown that the Broncos lay it all out there when it counts.  


      Walton has had little use of its 3-headed monster of Brian Sullivan, Kenan Farmer and RJ Torres this year, with the Alligator Lake meet the only one where we saw their combined efforts.  They’re a very good team with all 3 running, and a clear candidate for a podium spot, but we’ll have to see who shows up on the line Saturday at 11:30.  Milton likewise has a very good squad but has been missing their early-season #3 since mid-September.  They’re still good without him but will have their work cut out for them in trying to gain a position on the podium steps.

      Peachtree Ridge will likely put 2 in the top 10 but will then need supreme efforts from their other scoring spots.  Harrison has put together a very good team this year and seems to have mastered the art of pack running.  Etowah finished second in between Walton (1st) and Milton (3rd) at Region, so it’s clear they’re ready to make some noise.  Collins Hill has the potential to finish anywhere from 6th to 10th, so watch out for them.

                                                                                   6A Individual Boyz

     One of the surest bets on Saturday is the likelihood of seeing Josh Brickell (SR, Peachtree Ridge) breaking the tape first at just before 11:46 AM.  He has simply been unbeatable in Georgia this year, and even nabbed a huge win over one of Florida’s best at Bale ‘n Trail.  But a great race for 2nd is brewing, with Nathan Riech (SR, Milton), Arman Rehmann (SR, Norcross), Ben Pleak (SR, Marietta), Eric Westog (JR, Mill Creek), Nick Schofer (JR, Parkview), Alex Grady (SR, Newton), Kevin Mills (JR, Peachtree Ridge), Kenan Farmer (JR, Walton), JC Cornett (SR, Woodstock), and Ryan Peck (SO, Wheeler) all having legitimate shots.  

      Assuming Carrollton runs like it has for the first two meets this year, look for Brickell to be in the 15:39 range (if he has the hammer down), with 2nd place right around 16:05.  

                                                                                 6A Girls Team


      In the two meets where we’ve been able to see the Walton Lady Raiders at full strength this year (Alligator Lake and Region 5-AAAAAA), they’ve been everything we thought they’d be in the pre-season analysis.  And on the starting line they’ll stand at 12:15 on Saturday afternoon, hoping to click on all cylinders and complete the 3 year trifecta.  Should they perform as expected, odds are good they’ll take home their 7th state championship trophy.

      Only three teams seem to have legitimate shots at taking down Walton: Brookwood, Milton and Peachtree Ridge.  Brookwood was actually within striking distance at Coach Wood, finishing a scant 13 points behind a slightly diluted Lady Raider squad.  But certainly close enough to keep Saturday from being a yawner.  Senior QuanDra Shanks will try to lead the Lady Broncos’ upset challenge.

      Milton posted a win over Walton at Warpath, but finished behind both Brookwood and Walton at Coach Wood.  Then Walton put 5 in front of their #2 at Region.  So it will take a supreme effort Saturday if the Lady Eagles want to climb up on the very top steps on Saturday inside the fences.  But odds are very good they’ll be climbing up at least SOME steps.

      The Peachtree Ridge girls have run well all year, finishing 2nd at UGA and winning at Covered Bridge, Bale ‘n Trail and Region.  Scoring 30 points and averaging 19:27 (even at quick River Green) against a strong Region 7-AAAAAA field suggests they’re running very well heading into Saturday.


      So those are likely your top 4 podium teams, although – as they say – there is a reason we actually run the races, as anything can happen.  Roswell has been at full-strength their last two meets (after a tough one-month stretch) and seems to be the best candidate for the #5 spot.   We saw the Lowndes girls compete well at UGA, and they’ve posted some nice wins since then (see Westover), but Saturday will be their first big test in a while.   Harrison lost a bunch from last year but has rebounded nicely, winning handily at Region 4-AAAAAA.   Look for Harrison and Lowndes to fight over the 6 and 7 spots, with Mill Creek, Centennial, Johns Creek and Etowah possibly sneaking in there also.  

      Woodstock – highly ranked all season – didn’t survive the “Region of Death” 5-AAAAAA meet, and will stay home with an also very good Lassiter squad.

                                                                            6A  Individual Girlz

       Allie Buchalski (SR, Johns Creek) brings to Carrollton the most momentum, having handily won at Coach Wood over the strongest field in Georgia this year.  She also posted wins at Region 6-AAAAAA, Bale ‘n Trail, the Atlanta Classic, Fulton Co and Wesleyan, going undefeated in September and October.  The last time she was beaten, it was by Milton Senior Annie Kelly, who won at Covered Bridge and has finished no worse than 3rd at any meet this year.   Katherine Yost (SR, Norcross) has posted the fastest time this year on the new Carrollton layout (19:05), and has been running well since very early in the season.  Marcie Merriman (SR, Lassiter) got a late start this season but has put up good numbers since….look for her to be near the top as well.  Other Top-10 candidates include Peyton Thomas (SR, Roswell), Alexa Womack (SR, Walton), QuanDra Shanks (SR, Brookwood), Megan Charbeneau (SR, Lowndes), Leanne Zimmer (SR, Lambert).  Yep, that’s right: all these ladies are seniors….but watch for freshman Savannah Carnahan of South Forsyth to possibly crash the upper-class party.

Look for a winning time in the range of 18:25.....


                                                        5A State Preview  by Coach Matt King

                                                                                    Boys Team


      On paper it appears to be a two team race for the top spot between Flowery Branch and McIntosh.  If McIntosh is healthy their combo of Hort and Speir could be too much for anyone.  Flowery Branch always waits until the end to peak as they won 4A last year and they won the only head to head match up this year at Gunderson.  Both teams won their respected Region and it shapes up Saturday to be a great race.

      If McIntosh or Flowery Branch is going to be challenged it will probably come from Pope, Lakeside-Evans, Greenbrier, or Lakeside-DeKalb.  Each of these teams has been in the top 5 all year.  Pope who won Region 7, was 3rd at Asics, and 4th at Cobb Co.  Lakeside-Evans was 5th at Asics, 1st in their Region, and 13th at Coach Wood.  Greenbrier was 19th at Coach Wood, 2nd in their Region, and 3rd in Conyers at Gunderson.  Lakeside-DeKalb won their Region, was 5th in the varsity race at Coach Wood, and 5th at Gunderson.  All these teams are very tight and whoever shows up will win.  

      After this group it becomes much tighter with only seconds separating the teams.  Sequoyah (2nd Region 7), Starrs Mill (2nd Region 4), Union Grove (3rd Region 4), OLA (4th Region 4), Winder Barrow (2nd Region 8), Allatoona (1st Region 5), North Paulding (2nd Region 5), or Clarke Central (3rd Region 8) can run into the top ten. This is going to be a great race to watch.


      As most of the top group ran against each other at Asics this race stacks up pretty close.  The only question remains is who can stay with McIntosh’s Brad Hort.  He won last year and won at Asics this year.  He appears to be the favorite, but do not count out Pope’s Patrick Fleming, McIntosh’s Sidney Speir (a transfer from Minnesota), Chase Fowers and Bowles from Lakeside-Evans, Brandon Cromer from Union Grove, or Evans’ Weeger.  They could all take the individual title this year.  Another person to consider is Josiah Jenkins (a contraversial transfer from ACS to Cedar Shoals) who ran great this year especially at Great American and won Region 8.  Others to be considered are Nicholas Ashmead (Flowery Branch) , Alvarez (Salem), and Gunnar Stormark (Pope) who can run into the top five or ten.  

                                                                                     Girls Team


      This race is wide open and on paper there are many teams that can stand on the Podium Saturday.  Lakeside-Evans, Dunwoody, Lakeside-DeKalb, Flowery Branch, McIntosh, or Winder Barrow are all in the mix and have each been in the top two sometime this year.  Lakeside-Evans was the best at Coach Wood (by a second) to Lakeside-DeKalb.  Dunwoody won Region 6 over Lakeside-DeKalb and Lakeside-DeKalb was 5th in Conyers.  Flowery Branch won Gunderson over McIntosh, who was 5th at Asics (the best 5A girls finish). Winder Barrow beat Flowery Branch at Region.   It is very close and any of these teams could easily win the team title.  Lakeside-Evans, Dunwoody, McIntosh, and Winder Barrow are all Region Champions this year.  

      Whitewater could surprise and grab a podium spot as they are rounding into form at the end of the year with a win at Last Chance and a second place at Region.  East Paulding, Allatoona, Northview, and Loganville are all looking good and can finish anywhere from 5th – 15th depending on who shows up on Saturday.  Other teams that can run into the top ten include Pope, Evans, North Paulding, Starrs Mill, Rome, Greenbrier, Northgate, and many more.  

As with the boys we saw a good preview of this race at Asics.  Mackenzie Nail from Whitewater won that race with Dunwoody’s Alex Cameron close behind.  Cameron is a high returning runner from last year with a 3rd in 4A.  If Nail or Cameron suffer then watch out for  Sarah Bowles from Lakeside-Evans, Allatoona’s Emily Dunn, Hamilt and Williams from McIntosh, and Cora from Lakeside-DeKalb.  Each of these girls has run strong this year.  Others that can run into the top five or ten include Megan Asadian from Houston County, Gollnick from Northgate, and Caitlin Connell from Winder Barrow, who all ran great at Region.  

     Others to watch for are Kehoe from Pope, Billings from Northview, and Kidane from East Paulding, who ran great at Coach Wood.  This is a very close race and could go to any number of different individuals.  
                                                                4A State Preview   by Coach Claude Spinks


      The Marist team started the season ranked #1 and they have stayed there the entire season. Entering the state meet the is no reason to pick anyone else as state champion in either the girls or boys races. The real races are for 2nd and for podium spots.

      If Marist were to falter the one team that has chance seems to be the Heritage Catoosa girls. They have improved all season and always seem run their best race of the season at the state meet. The Alexander girls seem to be another clear favorite for a podium spot. That leaves Chestatee, Westover, Pickens and Columbus to battle over the final podium position. Other teams looking to finish in the top 10 are Grady, NW Whitfield, Veterans and Eagle's Landing.

     In the girls individual race Morgan Ilse of Marist looks to be the favorite. After Morgan there are a whole pack of girls looking to finish in the top 10. Among them are Bekah Houston, Brittany Truit. Anna Leigh Nix, Sarah Bearden, Ericka Taylor, Sarah Beth English, Alyssa Weaver, Miracle Stanley, Sarah Buckler and Kate Northrop.

      Again, the Marist boys are the clear favorite. After that, depending on who you talk to, there is a lot of uncertainty. Wayne County has run times this seaon that put them in the hunt for second but do they have the depth in a race of this size? For most of the season Perry looked very strong. How is their health? The Alexander boys have posted some strong times recently. Other teams that have run well and are looking to try for the podium or top 10 include Chestatee, Eagle's Landing, Sandy Creek, Columbus and Dalton.

     The boys individual race may be one of the more interesting of the day. Marist has Michael Thurston and Daniel Navarro that should be in the lead pack. Daniel Broadhead of Wayne County should be right with them. One runner who hasn't been talked about recently is Hakeem Mustafa of Shaw. His 15:32 at the Clinton course is very close to what Brad Hort ran on that course earlier in the season. Has he now become the favorite? There are several other boys who will run with group and try push their way to the top. They include Sam Bowie, Brian Cato, Clay Woolfolk, Josh Mason, Dale Pate and Abel Abay.

                                                                            3A Boys  by Coach Ryan McClay


     The AAA state meet is going to give the fans exactly what they want: A 3 team all-out battle royale for the state title. Woodward just got a big win over St. Pius X at the region 6AAA meet, putting 5 guys under 17:00 on a challenging course. St. Pius X beat North Hall at Coach Wood and Woodward at Carrollton earlier this year, but that was in larger fields than we will see on Saturday. Woodward and North Hall have not raced each other. North Hall had a faster average at Last chance in a different race, but Woodward appeared to be running a little bit of a tempo. There is no favorite. All three are very capable of winning. After that we should see a good race for the final podium spot. North Oconee has to be the favorite for that spot, but will the young team be able to perform under pressure? Chapel Hill had a great showing sweeping their region meet with a perfect score and will be in the mix. Blessed Trinity was missing their #1 at region, if he’s healthy they can be in the mix for a trophy. And don’t count out Oconee or Hart who finished 2nd and 3rd to North Oconee in the most competitive AAA region meet.

      Individually the race is Austin Sprague’s to lose. He’s only lost to one Georgia runner all year, Josh Brickell. He’s put himself in conversations for Foot Locker nationals with his big race at Great American and several high profile wins this season. But he is still going for his first state title, so the pressure will be on. There should be a very good race for 2nd. Drew Sands, Wit Nix, and Calvin Tirrell have all run comparable times all year and have been close when they raced each other. Expect it to come down to the last 800m with those 3 with key team points on the line. Other runners in contention for a top 10 spot include Cole Thornton, Tyler Jones, and Harper Sigler of North Oconee, Matt Morris and Wake Roberds of Oconee, Ross Morris of Hart, Locicero, Shuebert, Chapman, and Hill of North Hall. Forrester of Dawson, Thompson of White, Holifield, Silliman, Deshay, and Murfee of Woodward, Ferrugia and Anastasiades of St. Pius, Munns, Sowell, and Murray of Blessed Trinity, and Lord and McCloud of Chapel Hill. Expect the race to be very crowded from 5-20 as likely our state champion will be determined by which team runs best in those positions.    

                                                                         3A Girls   by Coach Sam Borg


The AAA girls team race looks to be a tight one between Blessed Trinity and St. Pius X at the top.  Blessed Trinity has had the nod all year long, but Pius has closed the gap and a lot may depend on the availability and/or health of Anna Gandolfo of Blessed Trinity.  Both squads have elite packs of girls and that depth will go at each other for all the marbles on Saturday.  The last 2 podium spots are up for grabs.  Favorites for these trophies look to be White County and Chapel Hill, but don't count out North Oconee, Woodward Academy, or North Hall, as any of these schools could find their way up there on a good day.  West Hall, Oconee, and Jackson will look to finish the year with a top 10 spot.

Individually, White County freshman Jenna Gearing comes in with 3 sub 19 performances under her belt and appears the favorite to win.  She has clocked 18:49 twice (ACS and Unicoi) and 18:44 at 7AAA region (Unicoi).  Seniors Ashton Lord of Chapel Hill (18:52 at Clinton Farms, 19:45 Coach Wood) and Natalie Kile of Blessed Trinity (18:48 Westover, 19:02 ASICS, 19:49 Nash) will threaten, as could Gandolfo of BT or Dabney of St. Pius.  What will the winning time be on the newly shaped course at Carrollton?

                                                                              AA Preview    by Coach Bruce Taylor

     The 2012-2013 Reclassification was very kind to Class AA as many of the top Cross Country programs moved up to AAA with the exception of....yes, Westminster staying put and Wesleyan moving up from A. This is the weakest AA has ever been, which has provided opportunities for the Public schools to make the Podium like never before, especially since Blessed Trinity moved up a notch. There has been very little movement in the weekly rankings after September.

     Westminster's Boys are primed to do their 'victory twirl' on the Podium again, though Wesleyan was competitive on their home course at region with an average team time only :12 behind the Cats 17:36 average. Westminster seemed to be missing defending AA State Champ Jordan Flowers at region and he posted an 18:41 at Last Chance...Wesleyan on paper has an edge over Benedictine Military due to competing on tougher courses as the Savannah area is geographically flat. Benedictine has yo-yoyed back and forth between AA and AAAAA the past 3 region re-alignments and could push Wesleyan for the 2nd place cup. It gets interesting for the 3rd and 4th Podium spots as Lovett is weaker than recent year's past, and Model and Riverside Military have legitimate opportunities to sneak in for 4th teamwise. Bleckley County also cannot be counted out as their home course is testy. It seems the state's military schools are doing well in XC this Fall.

     Contenders for the Individual title are many and this race may be wide open if Flowers is not 100% Although, Christopher Akins of Model has to be a favorite. Akins  been strong all season with a pr of 16:18 at Ridge Ferry and an impressive 17:08 at Last Chance on a much tougher Carrollton course 10 days ago. However, Orlando Burgos of Heard County nipped Akins at Last Chance by 1.5 seconds and this may be the race within the race much like Ian Edwards vs Leonel Ayala 2 years ago in AA. Other front runners could be Sam Geha of Benedictine Military, Miller Kettle of GAC, Grant Hoffman of Riverside Military and Jeremy Webb of Union County.


     On the Girls side of things at Region 6-AA, Wesleyan's girls matched up well with Westminster 1-3, but beyond that their depth is going to be too much to overcome at State. Westminster began the season with their patented formula, very slowly. But ramped it up mid-season jetting as high as 4th Overall All-Class as Coach Amy Eubanks worked her magic once again finding talent and harnessing it into a well oiled machine. Their most impressive outing came at Asics placing 2nd behind Milton with a 19:19 average team time. The Lady Wolves of Wesleyan are firmly the 2nd best team in AA with their top 5 having a season best team time of 20:10  Lovett may find themselves in a horse race with Jefferson for the 3rd and 4th Podium spots. Lovett's best race was Westover and Jefferson at the 2nd Annual Bob Roller meet. Both of these venues being very quick...Some darkhorse squads for a shot on the big stage will be Union County, Thomasville (who has been consistent and trains on a hard course) and Bleckley County.

     Sahara Fletcher has dominated AA Girls Cross Country and there are no indications she will not end her GHSA XC career by adding another individual title to her resume. Fletcher has a season best time of 18:15 earned at the Asics Invitational on 10/13. Teamate Charlotte Folinus (frosh) has the #2 performance in AA this Fall from the Asics meet in 19:14 Other Lady Cats capable of making the All-State squad are Kay Crawford, Sarah McGahan and Martha Stewart Fuqua. Emma Garrison from Union County looked strong at the 8-AA meet and has a pr of 19:22, Caroline Reed has been outstanding for Wesleyan this Fall with a pr of 19:39 at Great American XC Festival. Her teamates Taylor Panther and Ellie Bradach are both very capable of making a difference this coming Saturday. Freshman Ellen Powell of Bleckley County has big-time race experience for a frosh and fast..