With a return to its traditional format in 2021, the race to break the tape at the Wingfoot XC Classic in Cartersville this weekend is shaping up to be an exciting one. Seven of the top 10 fastest runners in Georgia will be on the start line in the Boys Varsity Championship race, many of them going head to head for the first time this season. Here's a look at some of the runners that could walk away with the individual title.
Joe Sapone - Holy Innocents Episcopal School
Sapone, a junior, has the fastest time run by a Georgia high school runner this year with his 15:26 at the Chickasaw Invitational in Alabama last month. Sapone is coming off an outdoor track season where he won state titles in the 1600m and 3200m. He's shown that he has success when he races from the front, so if he can get an early lead under the lights in Cartersville, he might be hard to chase down.
Bryson Gates - Creekview High School
Earlier this month, Gates dominated the Big Peach Mustang Stampede, winning in 15:27 with virtually no competition. That result shows the senior may have shaken off some of the rust from his season opener where he took third to a pair of runners from South Forsyth. It's the second fastest time in the state this year, second only to Sapone which makes for an exciting showdown on Friday.
Ben Rothering - Blessed Trinity
Blessed Trinity is in contention for the team title and Rothering will be leading the charge. The senior ran 15:30 at the Bob Blastow Early Bird Invitational this year for the third fastest time in the state. Rothering lacks the track speed of Sapone and Gates, so he will have to find a new gear if it comes down to a kick.
Matthew Fernando - Westminster Schools
Fernando is primed for a win after a second and third place finish in his first two races of the year. He's run 15:31 this season, but the senior has some serious closing speed. Fernando pulled off the surprise win in the 800m at the Wingfoot Night of Champions in the spring, outkicking an all-star field to run 1:52.24. If he can pull that speed out in the final half mile of the Wingfoot Course, Fernando could get that elusive win.
Nathan Solomon - Shiloh High School
Solomon pulled away from the field at the Gwinnett County Championships to win in 15:48, a new personal best and a remarkable improvement over his 17:26 at the same race last year. He also won the Apple Hawkins Invitational last week in 15:55, 13 seconds ahead of the second place finisher. Tougher competition at Wingfoot will show just how much speed the senior has picked up over the summer.
Ethan Nordman - Mill Creek High School
Mill Creek comes in as the top seeded school and Nordman is their top runner. He finished just behind Fernando at the AT&T Panther Invitational and third at the Gwinnett County Championships which Solomon won. He's run under 16:00 twice this year, but will need a big breakthrough to hang with the leaders.
Edward Blaha - Pace Academy
Blaha has only raced once in 2021 and that was a 16:13 at the Carrollton Orthopaedic Classic where he finished one spot behind Fernando. But the senior ran 15:03 last season and won the 2A state championship. It's a safe bet his season debut was simply a rust buster.
Other runners to watch:
Garrett Jones - Starr's Mill High School
Jackson Harris - Huntsville High School
Andrew McGinnis - Calvary Christian School