By Ricky Dimon
Every single state championship contender on both the boys and girls sides in Class AAAAAA participated at the Nike/Fleet Feet Coach Wood Invitational last Saturday in Gainesville.
Facing the stiffest of competition, the Harrison boys continued their hot streak after winning the prestigious Gene Mullin Invitational at Furman University one week earlier. The Hoyas dominated the Coach Wood field with a winning score of 96 points to runner-up Brookwood’s 140. They placed no runners in the top 10 but showcased their depth with all five point-scorers finishing in the top 27 of a 256-man competition.
Austin Sprague of St. Pius earned top individual honors with a time of 15:54, just a few tenths of a second ahead of Marist’s Michael Thurston. St. Pius came in third as a team with Marietta and Peachtree Ridge rounding out the top five. Peachtree Ridge was led by Kevin Mills in fifth place at 16:03.
The girls championship heat saw Marist prevail with 108 points. Brookwood and Peachtree Ridge tied for second, well back with 153 points but also way ahead of fourth-place Harrison (211). The victorious War Eagles were paced by overall champion Morgan Ilse, who clocked a time of 18:49. No other runner broke the 19:00 barrier, as Northview’s Lindsay Billings was second in 19:01. Walton’s Avery Bussjager (19:04), Brookwood’s Lauren Brennan (19:05) and Mill Creek’s Lauren Hovis (19:08) also ran to top-five finishes.
Some smaller schools tried their hands at the Rome Area Cross Country Championships, hosted at Berry College. Darlington made a statement in advance of the Class A state meet by sweeping both the boys and girls races. The boys put all five of their point-scorers in the top 10 and they were led by Spencer Fields, who broke the tape in 17:02. A more competitive girls showdown ended with the Tigers beating second-place Rome 28 points to 44. Darlington’s Stephanie Ward was first overall in 19:39.
This weekend’s Carrollton Last Chance Invitational will offer a state preview of just about every classification as teams get a final look at the state meet course two weeks in advance of the ultimate event. Featured in a loaded field of schools are Darlington, Etowah, Landmark Christian, Lovett, Marietta, North Hall, Parkview, Peachtree Ridge, Wesleyan and Westminster. Region championships begin in earnest next week, including the 6-AAAA competition on Monday at Marist. Dunwoody is hosting the Region 6-AAAAA meet this Saturday.