Collins Hill has dominated the girls Gwinnett County cross country championship the last six years, making the race a battle for second place for other teams.
The Eagles still feature a strong team this year, but several teams have closed the gap, making Saturday's race more exciting than year's past.
"In the past, it's been who's running for second," North Gwinnett coach Mark Karen said. "It's very exciting. As long as everybody is on the up and up, I think it's going to come down to that fourth runner. Heck, it might even go down to the sixth and seventh runner when it's all said and done."
North Gwinnett, Collins Hill and Brookwood are ranked 1-2-3 in the state and are the favorites for the team title.
"I think us, Brookwood and Collins Hill, Parkview is right in the mix, it's much, much closer than it has been in year's past," Karen said. "We're going to try and win it."
North was second at the Class AAAAA state meet last year and has won both its meets this year. The Bulldogs are led by Laura Serres, a serious contender for the individual title.
Collins Hill has won the last six Gwinnett County and Class AAAAA state championships. The Eagles featured standout Amanda Winslow, who is now at Florida State, Allyson McGinty and Briana Crawford. The trio are gone, leaving the Eagles with a young but talented team this year. Nicky Akande will try to keep the Eagles' run at the girls individual title intact. Winslow won the title the last two years and Jackie Drouin won it from 2004-06. Akande ran an impressive 11 minute, 4-second two mile at the River Green Complex, where Saturday's county meet will be held. She took second at the Mobile Challenge of Champions with a time of 18:01 in the 3.1-mile course, which the Eagles won the team title.
"I think Nicky by far is the favorite to win it with the time she put up at the stage races," Karen said.
Brookwood is coming off a win at the Carrollton Invitational where it had three runners in the top 10. Anakaren Lopez placed sixth, Caroline Kissel was seventh and Carly Egan finished 10th.
"If you don't put Brookwood in the mix, then that's dangerous," Karen said. "Especially the way Brookwood destroyed Harrison at Carrollton last week and Harrison killed everybody at Berry. So Brookwood, Collins Hill and us. It's a three-headed monster going into Saturday."
Brookwood ended the Parkview boys' four-year as the county championship last season. The Broncos ran their No. 2 varsity team in the Class AAAAA race at the Carrollton Invitational last week and came away with a victory.
"I think we got a chance to win it again," Brookwood coach Ben Dehnke said. "And that's our goal."
Brookwood, Collins Hill and Parkview are ranked 1-2-3 in the state, while Mill Creek is No. 5 and Peachtree Ridge is No. 8.
"Collins Hill be fighting hard and Parkview is improved," Dehnke said. "Mill Creek is coming along. I think it's going to be a four-team race."
Collins Hill won the Mobile Challenge of Champions last week with five runners in the top 10. Carlos Galindo won the individual title, Nganda Gatei was second, Andy Gonzalez was fifth, Justin Bourn was eighth and Ben Ottoson was 10th.
"I think it's going to be the most exciting, wide open meet in a long time," Collins Hill coach Andrew Hudson said. "The top three teams in the boys all won their races (last Saturday)."
Parkview won the championship race of the Carrollton Invitational last week with Alec Klassen placing fifth and Steven Spevacke finishing seventh. Mill Creek was second.
"They looked really impressive," Dehnke said. "Coach (James) Tigue has done a good job getting them motivated. I was really impressed. They've surprised a lot of people this year."
Defending county champion Kirubel Erassa from Grayson won the individual title of the Carrollton race with a blistering time of 15:33. The senior is the heavy favorite to win the county title again.
"I don't think anyone will run with Erassa. He will crush it," Hudson said.
Dacula's Mike McClay, last year's runner-up, Galindo and Brookwood's Tommy George are expected to challenge Erassa.
SideBar: CROSS COUNTRY
What: Gwinnett County championships
When: Saturday, 8 a.m.
Where: River Green Complex, Duluth