Over the last three years the NCHSAA 3A team title has been a close battle between Cuthbertson, Weddington and Chapel Hill. The three teams have stood out amongst the 3A field earning the top 3 team finishes from 2016 on. Chapel Hill were victorious in 2016 and 2017, while Cuthbertson won their first team title ever in cross country. Weddington girls haven't won since 2003, but have been in the mix many times over the last 15 years.
Each year the over the last four, the rivalry amongst these schools seem to get better. This year, each of these girls programs have been better than they have over the last four years. Respectively, Cuthbertson, Weddington and Chapel Hill rank 1st, 2nd and 4th in the Southeast Region of the United States. Each team has five runners under 19 minutes on the season and a team average in the 18:30s. The 3A girls' title has never been harder to win.
Cuthbertson girls have come on strong in recent weeks. They were able to win SCC Conference and 3A Midwest team titles over their rival Weddington 23-32 and 27-34. All three squared off at Friday Night Lights on September 6th on the state meet course and Weddington won over Cuthbertson 63 to 67 to Chapel Hill's 99 points. Chapel Hill and Cuthbertson also squared off at Great American where the Tigers edged the Cavs 169 to 176.
Cuthbertson's advantage comes upfront. Gabriella Castro and 2018 3A Champ Madeline Hill lead the charge. Castro was the Midwest Regional Champion with Hill just behind. They've run 18:08 and 18:23 this year. Cuthbertson freshman Lillian Nasta and Alyssa Preisano have been a huge boost to an already loaded team. Nasta just had a major PR at the regional running 18:36 and Preisano holds a season-best of 18:42. Behind them will be junior Leah Helms, who was 3rd last year but had an injury heading into the season. Helms had her best race of the season at the regional meet as she'll carry that momentum into the state meet. They'll also have Marissa Bosland contend for to be their 5th girl after a strong regional meet running 18:54.
Weddington has had a tight 1-5 pack over the course of the season. Anna Ritter has been their best throughout the season and set a PR last weekend of 18:24. Just behind is sophomores Emma Jones and Alyx Beausoleil with seniors Anna Davis and Kathleen Abrams giving them a 22-second gap from 1-5. Ritter was just .5 second back of Madeline Hill last week at the regional, and I think she has the potential to mix it up in the top 5 of a strong 3A field. You should see their squad work together through the early stages of the race as their key to victory will be being the first team with five runners across.
Chapel Hill girls come in ranked third, but as we've seen this season that's different on every day between these schools. They're led by senior Megan Marvin who is a 2:10 800m runner, but has had her best cross country season to date. She's run 18:24 this year, the 10th fastest in 3A. They'll need her on her A-game for a chance to be on the podium. Like Weddington, the Tigers should have a tight 1-5 pack with Abby Weber, Amelia Maughan, Sydney Runkle, and Nora Daley. In many of Chapel Hill's recent state titles, we've seen a strong last mile be the difference-maker for them. I'd expect that to be the case for them again this weekend.
The individual battle is as good as the team battle with the deepest field upfront of any class in North Carolina. Four girls, Jonna Strange (North Iredell), Kaitlyn Obremski (Topsail), Hayley Whoolery (West Johnston) and Frances Whitworth (Mount Tabor) have been well under 18 this season.
Strange came into the season in good form running 17:10 setting her home course record. She'd go on to break 18 again at Great American and at the 3A West Regional where she won by nearly 2 minutes. She won the NCHSAA 3A Indoor and Outdoor State Titles last year as a junior and is certainly well suited for the longer distance events.
Obremski and Whoolery had a legendary battle last weekend at the 3A East Regional where Obremski was able to pull away in 17:30 to Whoolery's 17:34, a PR for both. Obremski has been the freshman star who hasn't show fear in races taking them out hard and racing against the clock. Whoolery broke out as a star on the track, had a slow start to the season, but has proven she's in peak condition heading into the state meet weekend. Whitworth looked to be the girl to beat heading into the season. She ran 17:46 early at adidas and is every bit capable of bringing home the title this weekend with a bounce-back performance.
Gabriella Castro (Cuthbertson) has been getting better with each week of the season. She ran 18:08 at WakeMed and beat a tough 3A Midwest Regional field in 18:14 last weekend at McAlpine. She's an excellent racer and though her time might not say so, she's right there with the top girls heading into the weekend.
Jenna Reiter (West Carteret), Margaret Sept (East Chapel Hill) and defending champ Madeline Hill (Cuthbertson) should all be in the lead pack as well. Reiter was 3rd at the East Regional and has been 8th, 4th and 3rd at her last three state meets. Sept, a freshman, has come on strong running 18:21 to win her conference meet at WakeMed. Hill pulled away from the field over the final mile last year to clock a PR of 18:11 for the win. Last year she ran 18:19 at the regional leading up compared to 18:23 this year so she's in the same form as she was a year ago.
This should be the fastest 3A field as a whole in state history this weekend. From the all-star teams to the stud individuals, this will be one of the most exciting races we see all weekend.