Over the last two years, the Wingfoot XC Classic Championship Boys been the stage for some of the most thrilling finishes in recent southeastern cross-country memory. The final turn at Sam Smith Park has produced breathtaking moments, including last year's nailbiting kick to the finish that saw East Coweta's Kyle Harkabus outsprint Starr's Mill's Nick Nyman to take the win.
This year, the Championship race takes to Sam Smith Park for a race under the lights, with some of the region's best and brightest runners poised to shine. Without Harkabus in the field, another young star is poised to take the Wingfoot XC crown. Will it come in another dramatic finish? You'll have to tune in Friday night on Atlanta Track Club's Instagram Live to find out - for now, get set for the race with this preview of the individuals vying for the win.
The Top Contenders
Sporting a 14:55 season's best that stands as the fastest time in Georgia this fall, Justin Wachtel will likely be out in front leading the charge in the boys' field. An athlete with a 9:11 3200m PR who has been one of the fastest runners in the country for his age group since he was in middle school, Wachtel has started the 2019 season undefeated with four straight wins, including victories at the Mid-State XC Classic, the Battle of Atlanta, and the Bulldogs Distance Classic. At the Battle of Atlanta, Wachtel laid in wait and was able to use a punishing last mile to take the win, but the Mary Persons junior can also win from the front. With his 3200m strength, Wachtel tends to push the pace at the head of the race, and test out if his competitors are able to hang on - we'll see if the runner with the third fastest time in the U.S. this season will be able to do so this Friday night.
Included in that pack will be a pair speedy milers who will have the chance to chase Wachtel down at the end. Myles Collins, the 1600m Meet of Champions winner, heads into this meet undefeated and as the odds-on favorite for the 7A GHSA State Championship. Last season, Collins posted the fastest 1600m time in the state with a 4:13.26, showing that he has the speed to win in a shorter race. To start the year off, that speed has translated, as Collins ran 15 flat (U.S. #10) to set the course record on the challenging Athens Academy course, then went on to win the Gwinnett County Championships by more than 45 seconds. If he can be close to Wachtel at the end, Collins should be in good position to hold onto his undefeated streak in Cartersville.
Similarly, Sully Shelton of Harrison High School will look to use his speed to take the win under the lights. A 4:10 miler with the fastest mile personal best in the field, Shelton has developed a reputation as an outstanding kicker who can create a dramatic finish with his strong closing sprint. Shelton already has a major title under his belt this season with a win at the Cobb County Championship, and has shown in the early part of the season that he isn't intimidated by facing top competition. Expect Shelton to try and hang around and turn on the jets to take down Wachtel at the end as he looks to secure maximum points for a Harrison squad also competing for the team title.
At the Cobb Championship, Shelton was able to pull away and best Hillgrove's Noah Hayes, who finished in second in a personal best of 15:41. Hayes heads into this race looking for some revenge and riding the high of early season progression. Last year, he finished 16th at the Wingfoot XC Classic, and will look to display his significant improvement with a podium finish this Friday.
With an even more impressive aptitude for the track, Zack Truitt should be another major threat with his 1:56 800m speed at this event. The Landmark Christian School junior has already taken a victory at the Providence Invitational in a speedy time of 15:34 - a time that would have been good for 15th on the same course at the Foot Locker South Regional last November. He recently followed that up with a runner-up performance at the Warpath Invitational in 15:44 and seems to be in good form heading into this weekend's race.
The Chase Pack
In the four previous editions of this race, home field advantage has taken the day, with Georgia boys winning every Championship race so far. Coming from Tennessee, Miles Ally will look to reverse that trend and bring some Nashville flair to the podium on Friday night. Ally already has experience racing under the lights after finishing third in the Memphis Twilight Classic on August 31, and he brings 800m speed into the field to keep him a threat all the way to the wire.
The man with the fifth-fastest time in the field is Mikias Mekonen, who comes into this race fresh off a runner-up finish and personal best at the Bob Blastow Early Bird Invitational. Held nearly a month ago, the Lakeside High School senior ran 15:36 en route to the runner-up spot, but has not raced since. At last year's Bob Blastow, he finished in 16:21, showing that the senior is on a tear and ready to impress.
The only runner with four wins under his belt heading into this race is Andrew Jones from North Hall in Gainesville, Georgia. Coming in without a team, Jones will be focused exclusively on making it onto the podium as an individual, and will look forward to challenging some of the runners closer to metro Atlanta who he hasn't yet faced off with this season. His 15:43 personal best may not be the fastest in the field, but he may have the winning chops to pull off an upset.
He'll be joined in looking to make a name for himself by the fastest freshman in the field, Brody Chapman. Having run a 16:24 at the Voyles Classic, Chapman currently ranks as the no. 12 freshman in the country, and should have the opportunity to better that mark against some stalwart competition. Chapman may not win this year, but he may stake a claim as a force to be reckoned with in Wingfoot XC Classics to come.
Others to Watch
Cole Heron - Pope High School
Brennan Bower - South Forsyth
Kamari Miller - Marietta High School
Caleb Hall - North Forsyth
Sam Rich - Lakeside
Edward Blaha - Pace Academy