Just a year ago Athens Drive junior Noah Valyo placed 7th, the second returner behind Raghav Gopalakrishnan, at the NCHSAA 4A State Championships. Just a year later and Valyo has been undefeated against North Carolina competition over the cross-country season. He took home an individual win at Great American running 14:42 over a star-studded field setting his current personal best. Valyo broke out early in the year at Friday Night Lights on this same Ivey Redmon course running 15:14 to break that meet record by 17 seconds.
While Valyo had been the star of the season, Luke Liming of Cary has had just as strong of a breakout as his Wake County rival. Liming was just 7 seconds back of Valyo at Great American running 14:49 and just 8 seconds of him a few weeks earlier at adidas running 14:56. Just a year ago Liming had an off day at the regional and placed 33rd overall to not advance to the state meet. Just a year later, he comes into the meet winning the 4A Mideast Regional and the top guy on Valyo's radar.
Gopalakrishnan of Ardrey Kell would be the other key challenger with a 15:06 season best and a win at the 4A West Regional last Saturday. He finished 5th running 15:47. Earlier this year he ran 15:29 on the same course at Friday Night Lights taking 2nd to Valyo while finishing ahead of Liming. He's finished 42nd, 12th and 5th over his three years at the state championships over his high school career thus far and is someone I expect to have his best race of the year tomorrow.
Thomas Wlazlowski of Cuthbertson was 69th a year ago at the state championship running 17:01. In his season debut this fall her ran 15:47 to finish 5th overall on the same course at Friday Night Lights. He's gone on to have a strong season with a personal best of 15:24 and winning the 4A Mideast Regional last week in 15:37. Based off what we've seen this year I'd say he'll join the other three regional championships to be the four fighting for the individual title up front.
Albert Turner (East Chapel Hill), Tate Shore (Reagan), Connor Tyrrell (Riverside) and Will Venable (Broughton) are four others I'm keeping an eye on upfront individually as guys who should contend for top 5, even top 3, finishes tomorrow. Turner, Shore and Tyrrell are juniors and are the likely contenders to be the top non-senior finisher in a strong 4A field tomorrow.
Last year Marvin Ridge boys finished 5th overall with just one senior in top runner RJ Gajan in their top 5. While coming into the season it had looked like the NCHSAA 4A team battle was wide open, Marvin Ridge has been a step ahead of the field the entire year finishing as the top North Carolina team at every major meet they've competed at. Just a week ago at the regional without 2nd man David Rivlin they went 3-5-9-10-23 with just 22 seconds separating their top 4 runners. Even if Rivlin isn't able to go the Mavericks have depth amongst their 5th, 6th and 7th runners and they may still be the favorites shorthanded.
Hoggard has been their biggest threat over the year and is the only team deeper than Marvin Ridge. Their seventh runner holds a personal best of 16:27 on the year with their top 6 under 16:20. They hold a 15:59 team average and have two split packs from their top 3 runners shortly followed by their 4th-7th guys. Hoggard had an impressive day at the East regional scoring just 38 team points with their top 4 in the top 10 just as Marvin Ridge did. Broughton took 2nd behind them and are likely the third best team coming into the meet. They score 77 points and did not run top guy Will Venable who has been in and out of the lineup over the season. With adding him back in, the Capitals will still need some improvement to beat out Marvin and Hoggard for a podium finish, but we've seen them so many times over the last two decades have their best performance of the year at the state championships.
Ardrey Kell is just one man away from being a serious threat to take the team title. They have the best low stick of the contenders in Gopalakrishnan and possibly have the best 1-2-3 in the field. Cooper Kovach has stepped up big time over the course of the year to put them in line with their competition through four runners, but they'll need a PR day from freshman George Dreier who has emerged as a much-needed 5th man dropping his PR from 18:16, while running with the JV team, to 17:10 over the course of the season.