Andy Christie remembers when the Coach Wood Invitational was just a four-team event seven years ago.
The Mill Creek cross country coach started the meet to honor Richard Wood, the long-time South Gwinnett coach.
Now the race is in its seventh year and has become one of the premier races in the state and has drawn a national sponsor. There's 60 teams and more than 2,000 runners expected to compete in Saturday's race at Gainesville College hosted by Mill Creek.
"We try with the little things to keep runners coming back," Christie said. "We're really excited what it's grown in to."
The Coach Wood Invitational is sponsored by Reebok for the third year and will bring an elite runner to the meet. Nick Willis, a bronze medalist from New Zealand in the 1,500-meters at the 2008 Olympics, will be a guest speaker.
Willis is part of a star-studded meet that features many of the top boys and girls cross country teams in the state.
With so many of the top teams and runners on hand, the invitational is a preview for the state meet next month in Carrollton.
"That's just a dream come true to have this meet become a state meet preview," Christie said.
The girls championship race will feature nine of the 10 teams in Class AAAAA. No. 2-ranked North Gwinnett will not race its top varsity squad in the meet. No. 1 Brookwood, No. 4 Collins Hill and No. 7 Parkview are among the top 10 Gwinnett teams in the race.
Chattahoochee's Sydney Marshall, a state runner-up last year, and Collins Hill's Nicky Akande are expected to battle for the individual title.
The boys race features the top six teams in Class AAAAA, including No. 1 ranked Brookwood. No. 2 Collins Hill, No. 3 Parkview and No. 6 Mill Creek are among the Gwinnett teams in the mix.
"The boys championships race is just as competitive," Christie said. "The top four teams in AAAAA will be there and six or seven of the top teams in the all classification. It's pretty stacked as well."
Grayson's Kirubel Erassa, Brookwood's Tommy George and Tyler Anyan and Eagle's Landing Christian Academy's Luke Baker are among the top individual runners.
SideBar: CROSS COUNTRY
What: Coach Wood Invitational
Where: Gainesville College
· 8 a.m. - Girls championship race
· 8:40 a.m. - Boys championship race