Defending AA State Champion James Wood High School has risen to the top of the state rankings again. After their dominating performance at the Region II Meet, it appears the Colonels chances of defending their crown is very strong. Even with the departure of All-State candidate Joel Hanlon (5th in Region II) to Millbrook, James Wood should have no problem carrying the state team trophy home to Winchester. Leading the way for the Colonels is James Printz, a seasoned senior with legitimate chances for an individual state title as well. Printz came in 3rd at the Region II meet only 10 seconds behind Matt Bierlein of Fauquier. The rest of the Colonels top 5 and All-State contenders are: Kyle Russell (7th Region II), Kevin Pugh (9th Region II), Zachary Frye (10th Region II), and Jacob Pattyson (15th Region II). If they have a weak spot, it is their depth as their 6th place runner placed 68 at the Region II meet. The team with the best chance to knock off James Wood is the Fort Defiance Indians. Fort Defiance has a deeper talented team, but in cross-country only the top 5 spots count. If 7 runners' scores were to count, then Fort Defiance would win in a landslide. Fort is led by the freshman phenom Michael Cliffton who placed 4th at the strong Region II meet only 14 seconds behind 1st place. Owen Parkinson is their other runner that is a leading candidate for All-State as he placed ahead of 4 ranked runners at the Region II Meet proving that his earlier season ranking was not a fluke. The teams battling for the 3rd and 4th spot should be last year's Single A State champion Brenstville District from Region II, Tabb from Yorktown and Region I, and Jefferson Forest the surprise of Region III and the only unranked team in contention.
Seeking the individual title are Hatch, Bierlein, Will Williams of Rockbridge County, and Printz. My dark horse pick is Cliffton. Since Hatch has not done battle with most of these guys this year, there is some uncertainty adding to the race. However, with the dominating performances against strong teams and individuals Hatch seems like the clear favorite of the group. Printz and Bierlein have been ranked near the top all year, and have had some close battles and plan to bring it all to give Hatch a run for the money. With the emotions and uncertainty of cross-country meets, anything can happen. The pre-season #1 ranked runner, Williams, seems to be peaking at the right time, and may even be the biggest threat to derail Hatch. Williams won the junior race at Footlocker South last year, but began the season sick and out of shape. He has made progress all season and his experience may come into play. Other individuals looking to crack the top 15 and earn All-State designations, which haven't already been mentioned, are Brad O'Neil of Stuarts Draft (6th Region II), Sean Bossman of Tabb (1st Region I), Daniel Swale of Grafton (2nd Region I), Andrew Friski of Rockbridge County (11th Region II), Will Farlow of Jefferson Forest (2nd Region III), Donnie Mikels of Rustburg (3rd Region III), Justin Adams of Basset (1st Region IV), Jacob Birkett of Bruton (3rd Region I), Mike Ebert of Sherando (12th region II), Kevin Kadak of Jefferson Forest (4th Region III), and Scott Adams of Hidden Valley (5th Region III). Some of the sleepers who have run well this year and have been ranked at some point, but struggled at their District and/or Region Meet are Jordan Bowman of Fort Defiance, Dustin Whitlow and Pat Eggleston of Brentsville District, Lance McDaniel of Pulaski County, and Benjamin Mulherin of Tabb. Obviously all of these 25 or so runners cannot make All-State, but hopefully the top 15 have been mentioned.
In closing, I would like to recognize sophomore John Horst and Jesse Hutcheson of Christiansburg. Horst is overcoming a hip injury and is not at full form, and Hutcheson is recovering from a car wreck. Sophomore Horst was ranked in the #2 spot for most of the season until his difficult injury, and junior Hutcheson was making great strides while finishing 2nd at the Running with the Wolves prior to his accident. Their departure will keep Christiansburg from competing as a top 4 team.
Well, I am ready, and I hope all the athletes are healthy and give it their best race of the year. I am looking for about 30 elite performances with this group. Are you ready?