Before we get to the runners and teams, it looks like the weather may be one of the major story lines this weekend. A Canadian cold front plowed through the area last night, bringing much colder temperatures. With a day to adjust, will the runners benefit from the lack of heat? Will the rain that follows in the wake of the front soften the course and slow it down? This is definitely a weather-related curveball for a meet in mid-September in our state, and it will be interesting to see how the times are affected.
Like the Seahawk Invitational, the adidas XC Challenge has separate Championship and Varsity divisions, meaning that teams cannot run their "second seven" in the varsity if they race in the championship. The JV races are two miles, and have two different divisions.
Teams to Watch:
Without a doubt, this is the best field of boys' teams of any NC meet so far this fall. When the dust (or the mud) settles tomorrow, we should know a lot more about the top contenders and the teams that still have a lot of work to do to challenge them. Based on times from this year, Cardinal Gibbons comes into the meet as a favorite, but they will face strong challenges from no less than four other teams. Broughton hasn't competed in a 5K since the WNC Carnival, and they will definitely race for a title here. Reagan's top runners have not run a 5K at all, but their returning times and preseason marks indicate that they will be in the hunt. Chapel Hill has not quite lived up to expectations (though they have been far from disappointing) and will likely break through with a big race at some point; if it happens here, they will be in the top 3. And if Cole Rains is healthy, TC Roberson has shown they can stay with the top contenders. Not good enough for you? How about adding Midlothian (VA), the best team in Virginia last year? Though they lost 4 of thier top 5 from that state championship squad, they still return enough firepower to contend for the win in Raleigh.
Individuals to Watch:
Thomas Graham (Cary Academy) will set a fast pace early, and may be able to pull the front-runners to strong performances. Look for him to pull away over the middle mile and close out the race all alone. Sam Roberson (Broughton), Colin Godwin (Cary Academy), and Mason Boyles (Ashley) have all broken 16 minutes this season on legitimate courses, and Sean Willard (Midlothian) has a sub-16 PR from last year. This will be the first big race for Jimmy Hollingsworth (Northern Guilford) to test his fitness, and the same is true of Reagan's Craig Engels and Jordan Marsh. Cary's Bakri Abushouk has put up solid times but hasn't yet had the breakthrough race many of us expect from him. Jacob Sears (Panther Creek), Cole Rains (TC Roberson), Steven Phillips (Cardinal Gibbons), and Mitch McLeod (Chapel Hill) are all capable of top 10 finishes, and look for much-improved Richard Miller (Millbrook) to stick his nose in there as well.
Before the high school races even start tomorrow, two of North Carolina's biggest female stars will take to the course in the college race tonight. Wesley Frazier, competing unattached during the fall, will open her cross country season alongside Samantha George (Millbrook). These two will find a lot of familiar faces around them, as there are a TON of former North Carolina prep runners representing their colleges in the race.
Teams to Watch
Once Saturday morning rolls around and the high school races begin, the competition will still be fierce (though perhaps a bit overshadowed by the boys for the first time this fall). Two out-of-state powers headline this race: Henderson (West Chester, PA) was the Pennsylvania AAA runner-up last year, and Midlothian (VA) won their AAA state championship last fall and earned the #1 ranking in Virginia for all classes. They won't be in a two-team fight, though, as Broughton's girls have times from the WNC Carnival that match up very well. Cardinal Gibbons and T.C. Roberson are both capable of top-5 finishes, and don't be surprised if Reagan's girls also fight for a spot there.
Individuals to Watch
Brooke Gordon (TC Roberson) has the top PR of any runner in this field, and she will most certainly push the pace early, but that's fine with Eliza Dekker (Durham Academy). Dekker has already posted an 18:20 at McAlpine. Those two will find themselves in the company of Kari Johnston and Kara Dickerson of Midlothian, and if Janie Augustyn (Henderson) is in form she will be there as well (she ran #2 for her team last weekend, but has an 18:29 PR). Shelby Howell (New Hanover) will be trying to get back into the 18's after struggling a bit last weekend at UNCW. Austin Vass (Page), Kristen Henson (Reagan), Brianne Boldrin (Athens Drive), Esther Fisher (JH Rose), and Jentzen Jones (Fike) all have sub-19 PR's. Mattie Blue led Broughton at the WNC Carnival, but watch out for recovering Megan Sullivan, who has also been under 19. Remember, as strong as Broughton looked at WNC, their returning #1 ran fourth for them there!