In a meet traditionally dominated by Watauga runners, there is still plenty of competition to keep things interesting.
The Pioneer Clash of the Classes, hosted by Watauga at State Farm Field in Boone, features 3000m races separated by grade levels. In case you missed it, here is the introduction to the meet published earlier this week. It would be impossible to truly preview the freshman races, since we don't really know much about the rising 9th-graders at any of the schools. I will, therefore, stick to the classes that have some data to work with. Whenever I mention "winning" a race, I am using conventional scoring methods; however, it is important to know that meet management considers this a scrimmage of sorts, and does not publish team scores for any race (although I am told that behind the scenes they use a variety of scoring methods to break down the results). Finally, I should note that I don't really know if all of the runners below will actually run the race, as is the case with most invitationals, especially early in the season.
(All Classes Mixed Together, Returning 5K Times)
(Where results and photos will be posted)
It's still a little dicey predicting the girls' 10th-graders; new sophomores are very common in this sport, and even among the returners there can be great development (or great decline in some cases) from Year 1 to Year 2. There is at least one solid bet, though: Mason Kepley (High Point Central) will be at the front of this race. Behind her (that is, possible a minute or more behind her), things could get very interesting. Alexander Central has Cere Poovey and Melissa Garcia; Watauga has the trio of Amanda Eagle-Farrar, Kathleen Mansure, and Shelby Hickernell; and Sophia Balla (Lincoln Charter), Shannon Anderson (West Stokes), and McKenzie Stokes (East Wilkes) are all in range of a top-5 finish. Pay particular attention to Mansure, who clocked 12:25 this pasat spring. For their size, Lincoln Charter has a solid group of rising 10th-graders, although not quite on the level of Alexander Central or Watauga. This is also the strongest age group for North Davidson's girls.
On the boys' side, the sophomore year is often when improvement separates the future varsity runners from the rest of the pack. Unfortunately, we don't know who has improved yet, but we DO know that Watauga's Michael Holland and Will Vandenberg broke 18 minutes during their freshman seasons, as did Will Jolly (East Wilkes). Look for those three to pull away from the field, with Sam Stone (West Stokes) and Levi Andrews (Freedom) left to take on a fleet of Pioneers in the fight for the last two spots in the top 5. There are six schools with enough returners to generate a team score, with Watauga having the best group by far. West Wilkes and West Stokes both have solid groups from the Class of 2015, and could wage an interesting team battle during this race.
Hannah McBride (North Stokes) is the top returning individual in this race, followed closely by Celia Jackson (Watauga) and Cierra Walker (Alexander Central). If those three hold true to last year's form, this could be a three-person race, as the fourth-best time is almost a minute behind. However, Linde Wangler (Watauga) had a solid 3200 time in the spring, and could join the front group. Team-wise, Alexander Central has a foursome in this grade that is strong enough to challenge Watauga's juniors, but they do not have a fifth returning junior in the database.
Andrew Harrelson, Matt Osborne, and John Vollmer all ran within 40 seconds of each other last year as Watauga sophomores, and they should be at the front of tomorrow's race; keep an eye on Jacob Soule, who ran a respectable 10:42 for the 3200 this spring. James Hammonds (North Stokes) and Ben Sprinkle (Alexander Central) should be right on their heels if summer went well. Alexander Central has a solid group of guys in this class, and if they have been training well together they could challenge for a team win in this race.
Watauga has the top three runners in the race in Darby Middlebrook, Madison Harman, and Doria Kosmala; however, their fourth and fifth could be a ways back in this one. Individually, Krista Laplante (West Wilkes) will try to break up that group of Pioneers in the front, and Jordan Amos (North Stokes) had a strong 3200 in the spring. On the team front it looks like Alexander Central has the best chance to score an upset in this race.
Watauga should have this race on lock-down, as they have six of the top 9 returning seniors whose teams are entered in the meet. Peter Vandenberg and Josh Anderson lead the blue-and-white charge, while Bryan Brackney will try to preserve the sweep. Jason Barber (West Stokes) broke 10 for the 3200 in the spring, which means he has a great shot to challenge for the individual win here. Colby Shell (West Wilkes), and Sean Condon (North Stokes) will be hunting for top-5 finishes, and watch out for Abram Logan of East Wilkes after a solid track season. It looks like Freedom could be the only other team with enough returning seniors to have a full five-man team, but West Stokes has the best front three of anyone other than the Pioneers themselves.