With the top runners from Georgia facing off against some of the Southeast’s best, the Wingfoot XC Classic Girls Championship race is going to be a show-stopping race on the individual front. With four girls sporting personal bests under 18 minutes, a freshman jumping on the scene threatening to dominate this year, and a fascinating course with rolling hills, this Saturday’s race will provide some great insight into the rest of the year’s racing season. Who’s in contention to take this year’s Wingfoot crown? Here’s a look.
The Top Contenders
Five girls are clear major contenders for the title, with each looking to get under 18 minutes to take the win. Though the complex course tends to favor veterans with experience, the odds-on favorite heading into the race is unquestionably a newcomer to the scene, Jenna Hutchins. A freshman at Science Hill High School in Tennesesee, Hutchins has ripped off the fastest time of any girl in this race with a blazing 17:43 at the Cherokee Classic. And though she eked out that win by just two seconds, she also took a victory at the Western North Carolina Cross Country Invitational in 18:09 more than 30 seconds ahead of second place.
The out-of-stater will be looking for her third victory in three states this season, but last year’s top returner, Erin Leonard of Jones County High School, will have something to say about that. Though she hasn’t run yet this season, the senior sports a 17:30 personal best and ran 18:07 at last year’s meet to take third place. Her level of fitness is unknown heading into the race, so Saturday will provide a fascinating season opener.
Naima Turbes of Westminster will also be looking to jump from a top-five finish and take the win, as she ran an 18:22 to finish fourth at Wingfoot in 2017, but has shown that she’s already improved this season: After running a 19:24 at the Carrolton Orthopedic invitational in 2017, she returned there this year and ran 19:05 to take the win. Turbes was a 3A runner-up in cross country last fall and a Powerade All-Metro selection, and then went on to win state titles in the 1600m and 800m, proving she has the moxie necessary to win championship races. After showing her strength on the hills of Carrolton, Wingfoot will be a great test of her speed in the fields of Cartersville.
After missing last year’s Wingfoot, Brynne Sumner of Woodstock High School is back this year looking to continue her impressive form. Although she was sidelined by injury through championship season in 2017, she then put together a dominant stretch that saw her win the 2017 7A State Championship in the 1600m and 800m last spring.
Rounding out the top contenders is a junior from South Carolina, Mari Cagle Lockhart, who comes in as a perfect one-for-one this season, having won Bob Jenkins invite with an 18:41 on a challenging course at Sand Hills. Last year, Lockhart ran a searing 17:59 at the Foot Locker Cross Country South Regional to finish 17th, so you can expect a strong showing as she once again faces off against some of the top runners in the region.
The Chase Pack
Trying to chase down these five girls will be a group of strong runners hoping to put their stamp on the 2018 season. Cambridge High School’s Ashley Sechrest just put in an impressive performance in a victory at the Milton Cross Country Invitational this past weekend. She ran 20:24 on that challenging course and fended off a number of strong challengers, showing she should be up to the test at Wingfoot this Saturday.
Last year’s 11th place finisher, Ellie Hall of Marietta High School, will also be threatening in this race after having already won a Cobb County Championship. In that race, she showed off a 20-second improvement from her 2017 finish, and a similar improvement could see her drop from last year’s 18:45 into the low 18s. And she’ll once again be facing off against Grace Ellsworth of Hillgrove High school, who she bested in that Cobb County Championship race. Though Ellsworth just missed a title that day, she did win the Eye Opener Championship earlier this fall to announce that she’s ready to push into the elite ranks of Georgia runners this year.
Finally, Niki Narayani of the Webb School of Knoxville should be an interesting dark horse candidate to sneak into the top five of this race. She has experience with success as she won the Girls Varsity race at the 2016 edition of Wingfoot and recently won the Jr. Ward Tennessee Classic in 19:15 in her first race of the season. With a personal best of 18:12, the senior has shown the speed needed to break into the top five before.
Who will take home the title? Make your predictions, then catch the livestream of the Girls Championship race at 8:45 a.m. on Atlanta Track Club’s Instagram.