Coming into the season the NCHSAA 4A there were no clear favorites for the team or individual title. Over the course of the season it seemed things would just become less clear in terms of who the best teams in the biggest classification were.
The year started off with Pinecrest looking incredible out the gate at the Providence Invitational. We'd go on to see Panther Creek impress with a big win at the adidas XC Challenge. We'd see East teams in Cardinal Gibbons, Broughton and Leesville Road get better every week of the season. Just as things were shaking out, Green Hope finished as the top North Carolina team at Great American proving they'd be in the mix as well.
It seems to come down to five or six schools who could win the team title, and it'd likely shake out differently every time the race is run.
Broughton has run some fast courses this season, but they are as talented as advertised. They have two seniors in Jack Rooney and John Malach leading the charge for the Capitals. They'll likely need both of these boys to finish in the top 5, and both are certainly capable of that coming in. Their 3-4-5 is where they'll need a big day from. They'll need each of these runners to have their best race of the season as there isn't room for error. Freshman Dylan Core and junior Landon Soroka have finished side by side in recent races with senior Cooper Thompson finishing as their 5th. Broughton has won 5 of the last 8 4A team titles, so it's certainly a program that's proven to peak at on the right day in the past.
Green Hope is coming off conference and regional wins over Panther Creek. They won the Mideast by just 4 points a week ago. They're led by senior Thomas Vo, the only member of this team from their 2017 state championship squad. Vo should be in contention for the win this weekend and is as consistent as you could ask for. Behind Vo, Green Hope has a tight pack from 2-6 that has changed throughout the season. Liam McBride, Michael Taylor, Kyle Davis-Isaac, Ben Cale and Seth Young have all stepped up for the Falcons throughout the season. They have a 21 second gap from 2-5 on the season and a 24 second gap from 2-6.
Panther Creek went from losing to Green Hope by 18 points at the conference meet to just 4 points at the regional meet last weekend. Like Green Hope, they have a frontrunner in Ian Harrison who will contend for the win individually. They have a strong 2-3 in Casper Serrano and Justin Hayes who have run 16:00 and 16:04 respectively this year. They'll likely need these two to get through the line before everyone else's third runner this weekend. They then have four boys capable of being the teams 4 and 5 tomorrow. That's what the team points will come down to tomorrow for the Catamounts.
Cardinal Gibbons has been somewhat up and down throughout the season, but when they're firing on all cylinders they're a tough team to beat. Gibbons lost to both Broughton and Leesville significantly at the CAP 7 Conference Meet, but bounced back for a narrow win for the two schools at regionals last weekend. They've had a strong top three all year in Carson Williams, Wesley Haws and Brady Colford. Liam Peeples and Kevin Coffman have come on strong when it matters. Williams is the top returner from a year ago and is a contender for the individual crown this weekend. Haws is coming off a third place finish in a loaded 4A East region and should be an all-state finisher this weekend.
Leesville Road have slightly flown under the radar this season. Unlike their competition they don't have a frontrunner. We've seen James Blizzard be that guy for them this season, but his teammate have caught up giving them the best 1-5 pack in the field. Despite a third place finish at the regional meet, Leesville Road was the first team with five boys through with just a 31 second spread. Within those 31 seconds they've had two groups. Blizzard, Andrew Macemore and Jamal Mohamad have been the teams 1-2-3, then Gabriel Mann, Colby Crenshaw, and Kevin Bolin their 4-5-6. Leesville did not have Crenshaw at the regional, which could give them a slight boost to add him back this weekend. The Pride will need to be the first team with 5 boys through the line tomorrow for a shot at an upset for the team title.
We have the same thing with the individuals. The winner of this race would be different every single time.
Five boys head into the meet with a PR within 5 seconds of each other. Jack Rooney (Broughton), Carson Williams (Cardinal Gibbons), Ian Harrison (Panther Creek), John Malach (Broughton) and Thomas Vo (Green Hope) have each run at or under 15:10 this season. You also have Maddon Muhammad (Myers Park) who ran 15:21 in his second ever cross country race this season and is coming off a dominating 4A Midwest win.
Recently, Harrison and Williams set course records at the 4A Mideast and 4A East Regionals respectively. Williams was beaten by Rooney and Malach at the CAP 7 Conference Meet and Vo has been right on Harrison's heels their last two races. Muhammad hasn't seen much competition at his conference and regional meet. It's his first year doing cross country, and he could certainly upset the field this weekend.
Murphy Smith (Ardrey Kell), Wesley Haws (Cardinal Gibbons), William Mitchell (Millbrook) and Adrian Archer (Pinecrest) should be in contention for all-state finishes. But 4A is so deep the different in 10th and 25th won't be much.
I expect their to be a large group up front throughout the majority of this race. That's what we saw last year and Anton Idhammar (Cary) was able to hold on a put together a fast final 800m for the individual crown. It should be the same style race we saw last year.