MHSAA 6A Cross Country State Meet Preview: High School Girls

Athletes to Watch

Brookelyn Morgan (All-State #2) - Tupelo High School

        The #1 ranked runner in MHSAA 6A, the deepest class in the state, and the #2 ranked runner in the whole state, is the freshman phenom from Tupelo High, Brookelyn Morgan! Morgan has won 6 out of her 9 races this year and has not been the top Mississippi finisher in only 1 of them. She has the fastest seed time going in with a 19:00 5k, a PR I am sure she will lower at the State Championships tomorrow. Morgan is the 2021 3200m MHSAA 6A State Champion, so she knows how to get it done on the state championship scene, is also the #2 returner from this meet a year ago. Although Morgan will definitely have some heavy hitters in her way, she is easily a huge title contender for the 6A Individual title race tomorrow. 

Jessica Cartwright (All-State #3) - Hernando High School 

        The next athlete to watch, and is the only Mississippi runner to have beaten Brookelyn Morgan this year, is Jessica Cartwright of Hernando. Cartwright, the 2021 MHSAA 6A 1600m State Champion, took down Morgan at the stacked 2021 Saltillo Invitational and has stepped up her running game ever since, running sub 19:20 5k's on 3 occasions. She is just coming off of a win at the Desoto County Championship, taking the course record in the process. Before that race, Cartwright ran 19:15 at the 2021 Watson High School Meet and came away with a Top-10 finish, and was the 3rd MHSAA 6A High School girl to cross the line. She has the 2nd fastest seed time going in with a 19:08, and she is another one I would not be surprised to see go under 19 tomorrow. 

Maya Messenger (All-State #5) - Ocean Springs High School

        Next up, we have another young talent from the Coast, the freshman from Ocean Springs High School, Maya Messenger! Messenger has the 3rd fastest time going into this race, thanks to her 19:09 at the 2021 Watson High School Meet, a race that she beat Cartwright and many others on this list, and was only 9 seconds off of Morgan. Aside from her race at Watson, Messenger has had somewhat of an under-the-radar cross country season this year. Her race at Watson came seemingly out of nowhere, as this race was a season-best by a full 1 minute and 23 seconds. However, she has been the low stick on this stacked Ocean Springs squad in 3 races this year, and her stellar performance from Watson can not be ignored. Watch out for Messenger tomorrow, who is perhaps one of the biggest dark horses going into this state championship. 

Riley Jackson (All-State #6) - Hernando High School 

        Yet another All-State member toeing the line tomorrow as well as a huge part of Hernando's success, 19:18 5k runner Riley Jackson! Jackson has had somewhat of an up-and-down cross country season this year, but we saw a spark of her potential at this year's Watson High School Meet when she ran a PR 19:18 5k, the 4th MHSAA 6A High School girl to cross the finish line and was just 3 seconds back from her teammate Jessica Cartwright. Although she has had an up-and-down season, Jackson has still managed to stay on the All-State team through every single ranking, a very impressive accomplishment and something that is very hard to do as this is arguable the best year of distance running in Mississippi history. Jackson has the 4th fastest 5k time going into tomorrow and is the #1 returner to this meet from a year ago as she was last year's runner-up, so definitely be on the lookout for both Hernando low sticks tomorrow. 

Shana Sellers - Pearl High School 

        Yet another dark horse on this list but a stud nonetheless, an athlete that we should definitely watch out for tomorrow from Pearl High School, the senior, Shana Sellers! Sellers, a Mississippi College commit, has been coming off of injury for the majority of the season. However, if the MHSAA Region 5-6-7 Championships told us anything, it told us that Sellers is back. In that race, Sellers soloed a 19:40 5k in cool and drizzly conditions, which was 42 seconds faster than what she ran at Watson and she won by 1 minute and 15 seconds. She podiumed in the 2021 MHSAA 6A 3200m, placing 3rd in an 11:59 behind Morgan and Jackson. That 19:40 that Sellers ran looked like a tempo, and I'm thinking she can run at least 20-30 seconds faster with competition, which definitely puts her in the conversation for the MHSAA 6A Title tomorrow. 

Ashton Rainey - Ocean Springs High School 

        The last runner to be previewed for the MHSAA 6A Individual race, and in my opinion is the biggest dark horse in this race, the other low stick from Ocean Springs originally from Florida, Ashton Rainey. Rainey has had 3 wins out of her 5 races this year, running 19:53 for her fastest 5k of the year, currently ranked 7th in MHSAA 6A. She had somewhat of an off day at Watson this year and has beaten a lot of the girls that ran quicker than her at Watson - including teammate Maya Messenger. She is recently coming off of a win at the MHSAA Region 6-6A, taking down Messenger and Mississippi State commit Mallory Streetman. Rainey definitely has an outside chance of taking the title, and we simply do not know what she will do when gets on the starting line - If she has the right day, Rainey could be dangerous. 

Key Matchups

Morgan v. Cartwright (among others)

        Obviously, there are many others that have the potential to take the 6A state title tomorrow - Basically everyone that is mentioned above. However, the 2 biggest favorites are Morgan and Cartwright, as their record against each other is 1-1 this year. Alongside that, we have the 1600m State Champion going up against the 3200m State Champion for a cross country state title! There are always some fireworks whenever these 2 race each other - Saltillo and Watson showed us that. 

        In basically every race this year, Morgan has been the one taking it out hard, as she is one of the most aerobically fit in the field and she can somewhat handle a hard pace at the beginning. At Saltillo, Morgan gapped Cartwright at halfway, but Cartwright reeled her back in and had a huge last kilometer to take it. At Watson, Morgan led a huge girls' field through 2k, and then simply held on for a 19:00 5k and beat every other Mississippi runner in the process. Morgan is really good at what she does, which is handling the hot pace and is usually the one responsible for that pace. If anyone else in the field wants a 6A State Title, they're going to have to either go with Morgan and hang on, or try and come get it from her in the back half. 

        If Cartwright or Rainey are there with 1k to go, they could potentially have the leg speed to take it in the last 3-4 minutes. 

Ocean Springs v. Hernando

        It's looking like the team race is going to come down between these 2 teams, which are the top 2 teams in the state this year. Hernando got the jump on them at Watson as they beat Ocean Springs by 17 points and continued their streak as being undefeated in Mississippi competition. Hernando is very top-heavy, as they have the best duo in the state in Cartwright and Jackson, and their 3 and 4 of Madison Mcmillen and Delaney Hopkins bring some firepower as well. 

        First off, it should be noted that Ocean Springs did not have a full varsity squad at Watson. However, I believe that Messenger and Rainey have the potential to run with Jackson and Cartwright. Once you add Ocean Spring's Sarah Litton to the equation, a very strong #2-3, that's Ocean Springs potentially winning the battle through 3 runners. Ashton's sister, Addison Rainey, has gone 20:17 for 5k, which is right with Hernando's Hopkins, so this is matching up to be a lot of 1-on-1 battles. With all of that being said, it's looking like it's going to come down to the #5 runner tomorrow, and that is Ocean Spring's strength. Because of their strong #5, I'm going to have to go with Ocean Springs to take it tomorrow. Hernando still has a very strong shot of winning if their 1-3 beat Ocean Spring's 1-3, but on paper, Ocean Springs has the biggest shot of taking the 6A crown tomorrow - Especially if Ashton Rainey runs up to her potential. 

        Lastly, don't count out Pearl High School, as they look like they have a clear 3rd-place finish, and according to my calculations, actually have a small outside shot at winning. They looked great at their regional championships last week, and they might as well just go for it if the worst they can finish is 3rd, which is what they are projected to do anyway. 

Finally, here are my predictions of what's going to happen: 

The top 3 girls will break 19

The lowest Brookelyn Morgan and/or Jessica Cartwright will finish is 3rd

Ocean Springs will have the lowest 1-5 spread

Both Pearl and Clinton are going to do much better than expected

Someone in this field is going to win their first-ever Cross Country State title...