September 20, 2019 - CARTERSVILLE - Friday Night Lights met the world of cross country this weekend in Cartersville, as Georgia's top runners shone brighter than ever under the lights at the fifth annual Wingfoot XC Classic, hosted by Atlanta Track Club. Competing for the first time in a primetime race after sunset, Justin Wachtel of Mary Persons and Hannah Minuitti of Blessed Trinity took victories in the Boys and Girls Championship races in 15:11.8 and 17:54, respectively. Harrison High School won the Boys Championship, while Marist won the girls title, as Harrison also took home the Wingfoot Cup for the combined team title.
In a field featuring eight of the top ten teams in Georgia, Wachtel began as the pre-race favorite and lived up to the billing, but it wasn't always easy for the junior. From the outset, Lakeside High School's Mikias Mekonen took the race out, going through one mile in 4:56, followed closely by Wachtel, Harrison's Sully Shelton, Archer's Myles Collins, and North Hall's Andrew Jones.
Those latter four would wind up being the leading pack through the second mile, with Shelton, Collins and Jones eagerly hoping to stick around with the strong Wachtel and hold on for a tight finish. With just under a mile to go, Shelton made a major move, looking to put some distance between him and the Mary Persons standout, but Wachtel was able to cover every move, with Collins hanging just behind.
Three-wide into the final 400m they went, and it was Shelton who looked like he'd have the strength and speed to pull out the victory. But as the Hoya pushed past Wachtel again and dropped Collins, Wachtel was once again able to cover the move and put in a punishing finishing sprint, turning on the jets and unleashing a monster finishing kick that propelled him to victory in 15:11.9.
Shelton was able to just eke out second place in 15:13.7, while Collins settled for third just behind him in 15:13.8.
Shelton's Hoyas went home victorious on the night, however, as his two points were enough to propel them to the team championship. Coming into the race as the favorites, they also delivered on their expectations, scoring 129 points with their fifth runner, Brian Boyle, coming in ahead of every other team's fifth. Perhaps the most surprising team finish of the evening was delivered by Pope High School, who put two boys into the top ten to take second place. The top five was rounded out by Lambert, South Forsyth and Walton.
The favorites also came through in the girls race on the team side, but it was the surprise victory by Minuitti that came as the most impressive individual performance on the evening. Heading into the race, it was expected to be a battle between Woodland's McKenna Trapheagan and Auburn High School's Samantha Rogers, and it lived up to those expectations from the start.
Through the first mile, the lead pack included the two favorites, plus Mari Cagle-Lockhart, Reagan Mahoney, and Madelynne Cadeau. With Trapheagan pushing the pace, they went out in 5:32, quickly creating some major separation. Just past 2000m, Rogers and Trapheagan began to push the pace and separate themselves entirely from the pack, with Rogers eventually dropping the Woodland star and opening up a gap of more than 30m at the two mile mark.
But with about 1400m to go, that punishing pace began to show its effect, as Morgan Vaden of St. Pius X and Minuitti began to make their way back to the pack. Clawing slowly back, they were able to work together to reel in Trapheagan, then hunt down Rogers and create a three-woman pack with about 400m to. Running stride for stride together around the final turn, the diminutive Minuitti began to surge on the taller Vaden, upping her cadence and pushing past the St. Pius X runner with about 100m to. She wouldn't relinquish the lead, showcasing a strong finishing kick and surging to the win in 17:54.0. Vaden finished second in 17:56, with Rogers in third in 17:59. Mahoney and Cagle-Lockhart rounded out the top five.
With Vaden's strong run, coupled with Mary Brady's seventh place finish and five points, St. Pius X was able to edge out Auburn for second place in the team competition, as Auburn's pack wasn't able to finish high enough up in the field to secure a victory. Marist's depth paid major dividends on the night, as they were able to put two girls in the top ten and six in the top 39, meaning that they had five girls in front of everyone else's fourth.
The close finishes in the Varsity Championship races wrapped up a scintillating evening of racing, as runners from Youth to Frosh to College to JV all competed under the setting sun and then under the lights. In the first-ever college races at this event, Carolien Millenaar led her South Alabama team to victory with a win in 17:36, while Samford's Dillon Dean won the 8K in 24:59.8.
In the JV Championship, Sutter Guttery put in a gutsy performance and won in 16:59.9 for St. Pius X en route to a team victory in that race. On the girls' side, Katherine Vuckovic of Westminster School won the JV Championship in 20:37.4, edging out Brooke Simon of West Forsyth by just over a second.
Tomorrow, the action heats up in the morning, with a community race, four varsity races, and four JV races taking place at Sam Smith Park to wrap up the 2019 edition of the Wingfoot XC Classic. Full results can be found at atlantatrackclub.org and at this link.