A few major things could happen in the NCHSAA 4A girls' race on Saturday afternoon. First, Cardinal Gibbons has won 9 straight NCHSAA State Championships. They've won four NCHSAA 4A titles from 2015-2018 and five straight NCHSAA 3a titles from 2010-2014. The had won the NCHSAA 2A title from 2005-2008 as well only losing to Chapel Hill in 2009 over the last 14 years.
This year three of the possible candidates to take them down all reign from Wilmington, North Carolina. It's been a historic year for the Wilmington area with Hoggard, Laney and Ashley all ranking amongst the top 10 teams in the state and within the top 5 of 4A. Why is this so significant? No school from the Wilmington area has won an NCHSAA Cross Country team title ever.
One year ago Wilmington was hit hard by Hurricane Florence pretty much derailing the teams from having a normal season. They had weeks without organized practice or school due to damages from the storm.
The only girls programs east of I-95 that have won a NCHSAA XC Team title in any classification are Eastern Wayne, Washington, Lejeune and Topsail.
It has shaped up to come down to six schools being in the running for a 4A team title this weekend. Hoggard girls come in as the favorites with an 18:50 team average on the year. They won the 4A East Regional last week scoring 45 points beating Laney, Cardinal Gibbons with scores of 72, 89 and 102 points respectively.
With the four East schools having a shot at the team title this weekend, they'll add in strong squads from West Forsyth and Panther Creek who won the 4A Midwest and 4A Mideast respectively last weekend.
While it's going to be anyone's race on Saturday, Hoggard girls could possibly run away with the team title if they run at their best. They have a huge advantage at 5 where they're 5th and 6th girls on the year in Shea Hoffacker and Jenna Pellizzari have run 19:07 and 19:17 this year. No other team has a fifth runner better than 19:34 on the year in 4A. Laney girls are just as good as Hoggard through four runners but will need a big day from their 5th girl to close down the gap.
Ashley girls could bounce back from an off day at the regional meet. The East was one of the fasters meets we've seen all year with most of the field setting seasons best. Ashley's four and five had slightly off days, and with a strong performance on Saturday they're right back in contention for the top spot.
Cardinal Gibbons still has a chance to keep the streak alive this weekend. After graduating three of their top 7 from a year ago and not having last years 7th place finisher Caroline Mullahy all season they've still managed to put together a strong squad. They'll have a tight pack of girls from 1-4 with no true frontrunner. But if that pack can stick together and have a big day they'll be in podium contention.
West Forsyth girls were runners up a year ago and returned 6 of those 7 girls back this year. They're led by a trio of juniors in Kendall Phillips, Bailey Reutinger and Eliza Broce upfront. They have a team average on the year of 19:14. With a strong day from 1-5 they have the talent to have a slight upset on the field for the 4A title.
Individually, Carmen Alder (Pinecrest) is likely to defend her title from a year ago. She's been undefeated against North Carolina competition throughout the year and has run a season-best of 17:36. The junior will likely be tough to beat as she'll likely take the pace out hard and the field might not see her for the rest of the race.
Isabella Frey (Wake Forest) and Paxton Chitty (Ashley) had a big week at the East Regional where they ran 17:45 and 18:07 respectively. They should be in a battle for second with West regional champion Lilly Walters (Hough) and Midwest regional champ Gwen Parks (Reagan).
For the most part, behind them should be a relatively large pack. 17 girls in the field have broken 19 minutes on the year. Six freshmen come in with chances for an all-state finish. Olivia Bufalini (Laney), Molly Parker (Hoggard), Vanessa Alder (Pinecrest), Madeline Stolberg (Lake Norman), Isabella Borelli (Laney) and Sarah Martin (Hoggard) each have broken 19 minutes this year and rank in the top 15 heading into the weekend.