By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC
What: 2012 AA-AAAAAA State Cross Country Championships
When: Saturday, Nov. 10
Where: Carrollton High School campus, 202 Trojan Drive in Carrollton
Schedule: AAAA Boys, 8:30 a.m.; AAAA Girls, 9:15 a.m.; AA Boys, 10 a.m.; AA Girls, 10:45 a.m.; AAAAAA Boys, 11:30 a.m.; AAAAAA Girls, 12:15 p.m.; AAAAA Boys, 1 p.m.; AAAAA Girls, 1:45 p.m.; AAA Boys, 2:15 p.m.; AAA Girls, 3 p.m.
With four Class A cross country championships – public and private school girls and boys – decided last weekend in Macon, this weekend the state’s five other classifications will step into the spotlight, at the usual site on the campus of Carrollton High School. Here’s a preview:
The skinny: Marietta looks poised to break the strangle hold Gwinnett County has had on the boys team championship, which has spanned more than a decade. The last time a non-Gwinnett County squad won in the title in the state’s largest classification was Pope back in 1999. It would be the first-ever cross country championship for Marietta, this year’s Region 4AAAAAA champs. The Blue Devils are led by senior Ben Pleak.
Other teams to watch: Mill Creek, Walton, Harrison, Norcross.
Individuals to watch: Josh Brickell, Peachtree Ridge, Sr.; Alex Grady, Newton, Sr.; Nathan Reich, Milton, Sr.
The skinny: Walton is in search of its third team title in a row and the eighth in the history of the school. The Raiders, who won the Region 5 title, are led by senior Alexa Womack and sophomore Avery Bussjager.
Other teams to watch: Brookwood, Milton, Peachtree Ridge, Harrison.
Individuals to watch: Annie Kelly, Milton, Sr.; Allie Buchalski, Sr.; Peyton Thomas, Roswell, Sr.
The skinny: McIntosh, the Region 4 championship, is the favorite, led by the top two runners in AAAAA, seniors Brad Hort and Sidney Speir. But Flowery Branch, last year’s AAAA champs and this year’s Region 8 winners, could provide a challenge as the Falcons defeated McIntosh in a head-to-head match up at a meet earlier this season. Flowery Branch is led by Nicholas Ashmead, a junior.
Other teams to watch: Pope, Lakeside-Evans, Union Grove, Starr’s Mill.
Individuals to watch: Patrick Fleming, Pope, Sr.; Justin Weegar, Evans, Soph.; Chase Fowers, Lakeside-Evans, Sr.
The skinny: McIntosh could pull off a sweep of the AAAAA team competition. The girls team is led by senior Melanie Hamlit and sophomore Cassidy Williams. However, Lakeside-Evans and Dunwoody will push the Chiefs.
Other teams to watch: Flowery Branch, Whitewater, Lakeside-DeKalb.
Individuals to watch: Mackenzie Nail, Whitewater, Sr.; Alex Cameron, Dunwoody, Jr.; Sarah Bowles, Lakeside-DeKalb, Sr.
The skinny: Marist is favored to win their fifth team title in the last six seasons. The War Eagles are led by juniors Michael Thurston and Daniel Navarro, and senior Jack Leahey, all ranked in the top 10.
Other teams to watch: Dalton, Alexander, Perry.
Individuals to watch: Daniel Broadhead, Wayne County, Sr.; Hakeem Mustafaa, Shaw, Soph.; Sam Bowie, LaGrange, Fr.
The skinny: Marist has been as dominant as any team in any sport in the state. The War Eagles are favored to win their fifth consecutive team title, their 10th since 2000. Marist is led by Morgan Ilse, a sophomore and senior Kate Northrop.
Other teams to watch: Alexander, Heritage-Coosa, Chestatee.
Individuals to watch: Brittany Tuitt, Alexander, Sr.; Bekah Houston, Dalton, Sr.; Abby Booth, Perry, Jr.
The skinny: Any one of three teams could win the team title. St. Pius is the two-time champ and has four runners ranked in the top 10 in juniors Austin Sprague, Andrew Anastasiades and Joseph Ferrugia, and senior Calvin Tirrell. But Woodward Academy beat St. Pius in last week’s Region 6 championship meet. The War Eagles are led by sophomore Drew Sands and junior River Holifield. North Hall, with seniors Whitt Nix and Tucker LoCicero, is a threat as well.
Other teams to watch: Blessed Trinity, North Oconee, Oconee County.
Individuals to watch: Cole Thornton, North Oconee, Soph.; Ross Morris, Hart County, Sr.; Matt Munns, Blessed Trinity, Jr.
The skinny: Blessed Trinity will try to keep St. Pius from winning its third consecutive team title. Senior Natalie Kile and juniors Ana Gandolfo and Bailey Willett, all ranked in the top 10, lead the Titans. Meanwhile, senior Devon Dabney and freshman Katie Glenn hope to lead the Lions to the three-peat.
Other teams to watch: North Oconee, Chapel Hill, White County.
Individuals to watch: Jenna Gearing, White County, Fr.; Ashton Lord, Chapel Hill, Sr.; Victoria Rogers, North Hall, Sr.
The skinny: As dominant as Marist has been in AAAA, Westminster has been equally as such in AA. A win Saturday would give the school its sixth in a row. Were it not for a one-year stumble in 2006, when the Wildcats were competing in AAA, Westminster’s boys would be going after their 17th straight state team title. The Wildcats are led by junior Jordan Flowers and senior Adam Willis.
Other teams to watch: Wesleyan, Model, Spencer.
Individuals to watch: Orlando Burgos, Heard County, Sr.; Chris Akins, Model, Sr.; Sam Geha, Benedictine, Jr.
The skinny: The Westminster girls are expected to win their fourth team title in as many tries. To add historical perspective to the Wildcats’ dominance, another team championship would give Westminster 26 out of a possible 40 girls cross country titles, as the first state championship meet for girls was held in 1976. The Wildcats are led by three-time individual champion Sahara Fletcher.
Other teams to watch: Wesleyan, Jefferson, Lovett.
Individuals to watch: Charlotte Folinus, Westminster, Fr.; Emma Garrison, Union County, Fr.; Caroline Reed, Wesleyan, Jr.