2023 MSAIS 5A Track & Field State Meet Analysis

VIRTUAL MEET: High School Boys | High School Girls

Class 5A is shaping up to be one of the most competitive classifications in the MSAIS. With some of the highest anticipated races, athletes, and team battles, this division promises to be a thrilling event for spectators and competitors alike. After the four district meets held this past week, it's still unclear which team will come out on top in this highly contested classification. At least five teams in both the boys and girls division have a solid argument to win it all, each with a top-tier talent to complement their strong roster. From a level of competition as well as an entertainment perspective, Class 5A will undoubtedly be the one to watch.

Girl's Team Race

As the MSAIS Class 5A Track and Field Championships nears, the girls' division is shaping up to be a highly competitive one, with defending champions Silliman Institute considered the favorites by a narrow margin. The team will be led by senior jumper/hurdler Annabelle Windham, who is the reigning state champion in both the long jump and triple jump. Windham will be supported by sophomore hurdler Ava Easley, who earned a bronze medal in the 100-meter hurdles and a 4th place in the 300-meter hurdles at last year's championships. Freshman Katie Dawson has also made a name for herself, winning the district title in both the 400-meter dash and high jump.

In the throws, senior Sara Pace will be Silliman's go-to athlete, having thrown over 115 feet in the discus, well ahead of the competition. Silliman also possesses the top two pole vaulters in the class in Easley and defending champion Ellie Reeves, who will be looking to finish off her high school career with one more win. If these athletes can come through in clutch moments and Silliman can win their relays, they stand a good chance of defending their title.

However, Pillow Academy is also hungry for their first championship in recent memory and will be led by sophomore sprinter Addison Weems, who has been having a breakout season, remaining unbeaten in the 100m, 200m, and 400m. Pillow will be looking for strong distance performances from Mary Laine Dyksterhouse and Emma Beckwith, as well as from jumpers Ella Wallace and Alanna Hodo, and Bayou transfer Sarah Grace Beck, who may be the only pole vaulter capable of spoiling Silliman's pole vaulting duo. Pillow will rely heavily on Weems and other young talents to lead them to victory.

Meanwhile, Bayou Academy is also a potential dark horse pick to win Class 5A, led by a young sprinter core of Taylor Mccain, Elizabeth James Sanders, Catherine Sanders, and Stella Rose Cartwright. Sophomore Sela Mancini and freshman Anna Patrick Havens will bolster the throwing squad. For Bayou to play spoiler in the overall meet, it will be crucial to qualify as much of their squad as possible for Bayou and limit Pillow's squad size as much as possible at North State.

Girl's Individual Highlights

if you're looking for a sports star to follow this season, then look no further than Layla Warren! This distance runner has been on fire for the past few years, dominating her class and leaving competitors in the dust. With five individual state titles already under her belt, Warren is a force to be reckoned with.

But can she keep up her winning streak this season? That's the question on everyone's lips. Warren is a true champion when it comes to the 1600m and the 3200m, but can she add the 800m title to her already impressive collection? It's going to be a tough challenge, but if anyone can do it, it's Layla Warren.

And let's not forget about MaKenzie Ward from Madison St Joe. This freshman has quickly made a name for herself as one of the best 300 hurdlers in the state, and she's the top in her class by a whopping two seconds. That's an impressive feat for any athlete, let alone a freshman!

Ward has gone head to head with some of the best in MSAIS and held her own. If she can stay calm and focused, she has a real chance at taking home the gold in both the 100 meter hurdles and the 300 meter hurdles. Keep an eye on this rising star - she's sure to be one to watch this season.

Boy's Team Race

It's anyone's game, but the slight favorite has to be Bayou Academy. They've been chomping at the bit for a title for a long time now, and they're hungry to finally come out on top. With Mississippi State signee Cruz Oguz leading the way, Bayou is sure to put up a fight. Oguz is one of the fastest men in the MSAIS and will be competing in the 100m, 200m, and shot put - an unusual triple. But he's not the only one to watch out for. Bayou will be looking to their field events for points, with thrower Alex Lopez and jumpers Thomas Craft, John Howard Gilbert, and Havens Fioranelli all in contention. And let's not forget the importance of the relays - Bayou needs to maximize their top-end talent if they want to take home the title.

But don't count out the defending champs, Silliman Institute. While they haven't been as dominant this year as in years past, they've still got a solid team. Led by distance runners Denny Qui, Nate Williams, and Caden Birch, Silliman has a lot of depth and consistency on their side. Hurdler/jumper Kevin Windham and sprinter/jumper Colby Morris have also been standouts for the team. Silliman's key to victory will be simply having enough athletes qualify for the state meet to be competitive in the team race.

And let's not forget about the surprise team in contention - Starkville Academy. They may not have the same intimidating reputation as some of their competitors, but they've been turning heads this year with their strong relays and standout performances from middle-distance runner Ben Smith, hurdler Alex Friedhaber, and sprinter/jumper Quinton Wiley. While they may be more of a dark horse in this race, Starkville is definitely a team to watch out for.

Boy's Individual Highlights 

First up, we have Sidney Stegall, who's been having a Hollywood season.

He's already won the Gatorade Player of the Year, signed with Mississippi College, and hasn't lost a track race inside Mississippi in two years. Stegall is the top-ranked runner in the state in both the 1600m and 3200m, and according to the MSAIS, he's the greatest distance runner of all time - despite not having a single overall meet record to his name. But that could all change this year, as Stegall has his sights set on breaking the 800m, 1600m, and 3200m records. It's a tall order, but if anyone can do it, it's Sidney Stegall.

William Fugate from Madison St Joe is also one to watch out for. He's had a solid season so far, running 4:34 in the 1600m and 9:57 in the 3200m, and he's looking to hang on to Stegall for as long as he can in the 800m, 1600m, and 3200m. Fugate is hoping to gain a lot of points for Madison St Joe and potentially set new PRs in the process.

Sophomore sprinter Ruben Martinez from Pillow is another rising star to keep your eye on. He's undefeated this season in the 400m and is currently the class lead. Martinez is looking to break out this year in both the 200m and 400m and could potentially win his first individual title.

Hurdler Austin Acton from Lamar has had a stellar season so far, establishing himself as one of the top hurdlers in the MSAIS. He's looking to pull off the 100mH/300mH double, but he'll have stiff competition from Washington's Cedric Dove, who's been nipping at Acton's heels all season. This should be an exciting matchup between two of the best in the class.

Last but not least, we have East Rankin's Brayden Warner, who's been dominating the discus throw. He's far and away the best discus thrower in Class 5A and is looking to break the 170-foot barrier. Keep your eyes peeled for Warner - he's definitely one to watch out for.

Race to Watch: Girls 800m

Get ready for a race you won't want to miss - the MSAIS 5A girls' 800 meters!

With previous champion Maggie Triplett now running at Mississippi College, the field is wide open and the competition is fierce. The race is sure to be another chapter in the Simpson vs. East Rankin vs. Columbia rivalry, with Layla Warren leading the charge for Simpson. She's looking to pull off the triple and is joined by senior Emma Overstreet, who's hoping to make a splash at the state meet. Meanwhile, in the East Rankin corner, we have Audrey Mayatte, the top indoor runner in the state who's been going step for step with Warren all season, as well as eighth-grader Leah Collipp, who's been one of the most consistent runners in the class this year. And don't count out Columbia, with top returner Briley Speights and breakout sophomore Macy Robertson in the mix.

But here's the surprising part - the top seed currently goes to Maddie Verucchi from Cathedral.

Despite being a complete newcomer to the sport, with only two races under her belt, Verucchi has won them both and even took first place in her district in the 800m by a whopping ten seconds. She's the top seed heading into South State and could very well be the top seed going into the state meet.

Is it possible for a newcomer to beat some of the best in the MSAIS in just three weeks? Or will one of the traditional powers like Warren, Mayette, or Speights provide a return to normalcy in this event?

It's anyone's guess, and we can't wait to see how it all unfolds in just a few short weeks.