The strongest and largest classification in Virginia has long been dominated by one team, Western Branch. These Bruins have won a staggering six team titles in a row indoors and six outdoor team titles as well. This year though, moreso than ever before, the Dynasty will face someone who can beat them in South Lakes.
There has long been the question whether anyone could let alone would beat them. Last year at outdoors when South Lakes came within a relay and 1.5 points of winning it that question was answered loud and clear.
With South Lakes returning most of their scoring from a year ago while Branch loses state record holder Shadajah Ballard things have gotten very interesting. To put it plainly, this one is going to be a dogfight.
To beat Branch though takes more than just the points, it takes a will and belief that you can. Think of it this way, some athletes on these teams were in 2nd grade the last time Western Branch didn't win states back in 2013. They have faced some strong teams and year after year rose to the challenge.
South Lakes though is the only team out of the other 12 to get it within 20 and they return nearly everyone. South Lakes believes they can win and we do too. IF they were to win, indoors currently seems like the better season to do it in with two hurdle events outdoors to Branch's favor.
South Lakes will rely heavily on their big scorers this time around and if they have big outings this meet will certainly come down to the 4x4. The biggest of these scorers is Hannah Waller, the lone girl in Class 6 history to beat the 757 athletes and teams at Boo. She will need her best meet ever.
Waller, due to realignment of the VHSL, has an unlikely companion though in Massaponax's Aaliyah Pyatt who is now in Class 6. That addition gives Waller the added benefit of not having to win all her races but needs to just finish higher than a Western Branch runner. Waller will also have to score a lot of points in the jumps.
Below are some of the different scenarios we could foresee happening.
|Sprint/Hurdles PoinTs||Field Points||Distance Points||Relay Points||Total Points|
|South Lakes Perfect Meet Scoring||30||36||5||23||94|
|Western Branch Perfect Meet Scoring||45||48||1||18||112|
|South Lakes Most-Likely Meet Scoring||24||26||4||18||72|
|Western Branch Most-Likely Meet Scoring||36||30||0||14||80|
*These take into account that athletes can only run in three events and that relay teams would be down at least one runner each.
As you can see the room for error is small for both teams. They are not only going to need their big players to perform well but all their athletes, even those just scoring a single point. This meet could come down to someone missing their mark in the jumps, a false start, or dropped baton.
Though we have outlined above what Waller needs to do, Western Branch has their own list of asks. The first of those is that Na'Taja Ballard has to score over 26 points in her three likely events (55, 55H, 300). She should win the 55H but in the 55 and 300 she will need her best outing to beat the likes of Pyatt, Waller, Hall, Thomas, and O'Neil.
Also looking for a big meet is Ltamara Weeks for Branch and Mary Gregory for South Lakes who both are integral to their team's success. Neither of them needs to win an event but they do need to score solid points across multiple events.
It would appear that Western Branch has everything to lose and South Lakes has everything to gain by a victory but that isn't the full picture. Branch is chasing some records this month. They are seeking their 7th consecutive indoor title in a row, which would be a Virginia State record. Also they are looking for their 9th team title overall indoors which would put them alone atop the state record list where they currently share the top spot.
Only recently have you started to see the fireworks with these teams finally showing some of their cards as the post-season arrives and that is because both of these teams are not focused on flashy performances but more so on long-term success and quietly working towards that state title.