This was a very enjoyable meet as there were a lot of races that were thrilling to watch, as gave us a good indicator of what will most likely happen at the state championships. There was a lot that went down on October 29, 2021, so let's go ahead and jump right in...
Combined Results over the Weekend
Ireland wins Big, 'Ireland v.s. Justice' showdown heating up
Emily Ireland of St. Andrews, one of the best 'medium school' female runners in the state, continued her winning ways and ran a solo 20:03 5k, looking smooth while doing it. She took the lead early and never looked back, and Ireland looked as if she was doing an early morning tempo. It is clear that this is the fittest Ireland has ever been in her life, as this was her 4th win out of 6 races, and is just coming off of a 19:37 5k PR from Watson.
The showdown between Ireland and Aubree Justice is heating up big time, as this will be the first the 2 have raced this year, and it'll be for a state title. Justice has been on a tear all season, winning 5 races in a row and just recently ran 19:51 to win her regional, taking down in-class rival Katie Meeks of Kossuth as well as MHSAA 4A Standout Hannah Sanders. The pair have a solid week to prepare for the state meet, but expect a gritty matchup between these 2 next Monday as Ireland will try and fend off Justice and defend her state title.
Matchup of the Day: Leverett v.s. Hewes
It's not often when 2 sub-16 5k runners go up against each other in the same region, and it is especially rare when they are in a smaller class such as MHSAA 3A. With how deep this year has been for Mississippi though, we really shouldn't even be surprised.
All-State #1 Keegan Leverett, the winner of 2021 Watson went up against in-class rival and 15:57 runner Jack Hewes for the 2nd time this year in the MHSAA Region 8 - 3A Championship race. After Leverett's huge win at Watson, running 15:37 and dipping inside of the top 10 All-time in the state, he was the obvious pick for #1 in the state. After speaking with Leverett after Watson, we agreed that Watson's win looked somewhat easy for him, and he thought he could go even faster - I agreed with him then, and I agree with him even more after watching Leverett win his region in one of the most comfortable 15:40 5k's I've ever seen.
Jack Hewes is certainly no slouch - he is one of the most talented kids in the state, breaking 16 on 2 occasions now, and this is his first-ever cross country season. He put pressure on Leverett early on and the ball was in his court at the 3k mark, and you would have thought they were running 8 minutes per mile pace out on the course the way that Leverett responded. Leverett gapped one of the most talented kids in the state, in a matter of seconds.
With less than a mile to go, Leverett had the race won and looked smooth as glass all the way to the finish. Hewes still ran an outstanding race, running 15:54 for 2nd and jumping to #5 in the state this year. As a matter of fact, every time that Hewes has stepped on the line this year, he has run a PR - A streak that I would bet he will continue doing all the way through All-State.
This is a way different 'Keegan Leverett' from what we saw at the 2021 Saltillo Invitational folks. He has some of the best race instincts and tactics I have ever seen. He has so many tricks up his sleeve, and it is near-impossible to break him. I can't wait to see what the Leverett and Hewes have in store for us at state, as well as All-State.
Region of the day: MHSAA 3 - 6A
The Region of the day belongs to Region 3-6A, and perhaps the race of the day goes to the high school boys race in this region. A few years back, this race would have been a highly competitive state championship field and is yet another testament to how good Mississippi has gotten, and another testament to how deep MHSAA 6A is this year.
With studs like Grayson Edwards, Bennett Ferguson, the Brandon duo of Noah Bowlin and Dylan Chapman, as well as the crew that Pearl High School brings to the table, Region 3 - 6A is one of the deepest regions in the state on the boy's side, and that showed as they were nearly 10-wide through the first mile, running tactical as ever - I say tactical, as they were still running a little under 17 minute 5k pace at the 2k mark.
Finally blowing up on the back half of the course and a monster kick in the last kilometer, it ended up being a breakout day from Grayson Edwards, taking the win in 16:27, a new 5k PR for the senior. Another runner hitting a PR was Oak Grove's Bennet Ferguson, the junior, running 16:36 for 2nd. Finally, rounding out the top 3 was Noah Bowlin of Brandon, finishing in 16:47 for 5k, just off of his PR.
Pearl continued their momentum from Watson with their very low 1-5 spread of 20 seconds, and their 1-4 spread was 9 seconds with Brendan Clark leading the way. From the looks of things, they shut it down early and were just running for the team title, and it is clear that this pack running style will be their strategy for state, as they are probably the best pack running team in the state.
I can't wait to see the race for the state title if that's just what the regional looked like, and the rest of the regions were a thriller as well!
The girl's regional championship was just as exciting, as yet another MHSAA 6A title contender emerged, ousting her true 5k PR by 3 seconds running 19:40, and doing it finishing 1 minute and 15 seconds ahead of the 2nd place runner. That title contender was none other than Shana Sellers of Pearl, also leading her team to a 1-4 sweep.
Sellers had been struggling with a little bit of injury in the first half of her season, but it is clear that she is back and better than ever, running 42 seconds faster than what she did at Watson, again in a solo effort. I didn't even know how quick she was running until she finished, because it looked so effortless. I can't wait to see what she does against the likes of Hernando, Ocean Springs, and Brookelyn Morgan, as that too will be a very deep and thrilling race to watch.
Girl's Regional Winners Show up and Show out
Sellers and Ireland weren't the only ones throwing down fast times on Friday at the 'Super-Regional'. Aubrey Britt and Emily Snodgrass were a part of that trend as well, absolutely dominating their regional championship and setting themselves up nicely for their state championships.
Snodgrass ran 20:01 for 5k, a huge breakthrough race for the West Lauderdale sophomore, just 9 seconds off of her PR set 2 years ago. If she raced as she did on Friday at the MHSAA 4A State Championships, a PR is surely in her path soon. Snodgrass is currently ranked a close 2nd behind Kate Gann, and ahead of last year's defending champion Hannah Sanders, currently ranked 3rd.
Britt won her regional by a monstrous gap of 2 minutes and 16 seconds, running 20:22 for 5k, an SB and now the #1 ranked runner in MHSAA 2A by 22 seconds. She has won the last 4 state titles in MHSAA 2A and is poised to make it 5 after her dominating performance on Friday.
Team Performance of the Day: Brookhaven High School
The boys of Brookhaven continued their dominance of the season, combining with Region 2 of MHSAA 5A and still putting 5 in the top 5, scoring a perfect 15 points in their regional championship, and doing so fairly easily. They essentially used the race as a workout, coming through 2 miles in around 10:05 led by Grayson Childress, and then shut it down after that. The race was won by Sam Arnold, defending his regional title for the 3rd year in a row. They had a 46 second 1-5 spread, and 5th man Collin Kellum was 30 seconds ahead of the next finisher.
The Brookhaven high school girls team also had a day of their own, putting 4 in the top 4 and 5 in the top 6 combined with Region 2, and were led by 7th grader Isabella Iles, the medium middle school state champion, winning her first-ever varsity 5000m race!
Brookhaven also swept the top 4 spots, all running PR's or very close to them. Like many other runners and teams that ran, I thought they looked very good as a team and could potentially sneak in and take a top 2/3 spot at state.