DULUTH -- Brookwood's boys and Collins Hill's girls repeated as champions of Saturday's cross country Stage Races, uniquely formatted 3,200-meter races in which boys and girls compete together, against their position counterparts from other teams at the River Green Complex.
The highlight was Stage 5 for teams' No. 1 runners, where Brookwood's Sean Brennan edged by a half-step close friend Brendan Hoban of St. Pius in a meet-best 9 minutes, 41 seconds.
The Broncos senior, winner of Stage 4 for No. 2 runners last year, was proud to clock the best boys time of the day.
"I didn't really have an expectation," he said of the flat 11/2-mile loop encircled 11/3 times. "I just had it today. On another day, it might have been him. He almost out-leaned me at the finish."
The co-ed difference
Unlike 5K cross country races, where boys and girls run separately, they started together in stage races, with the boys typically finishing two minutes ahead. Boys could perceive slower running girls as obstructive early on. Girls, though on pace, might feel they're faltering as boys repeatedly pass them.
Then again, faster running boys might motivate girls.
"The guys helped me keep pushing myself," said North Gwinnett junior Jordan Humphrey, who won Stage 3 for teams' No. 3 runners in 11:57. "I knew I had to pass as many guys as I could. Having guys there really helped me."
The value of individuality
When competing as a team, the average time of the pack is often a strategy. But in stage races, runners are left to their own strategy.
"It gives them isolated racing experience. It's a good teaching tool," Brookwood coach Ben Dehnke said. "Each is empowered to have good individual influence in the outcome. It makes everyone individually accountable."
Collins Hill's girls edged runner-up North Gwinnett and third-place Brookwood for their ninth consecutive victory, while Brookwood's boys nipped St. Pius and Collins Hill for their third straight. Sydney Williams, Chloe Whitworth and Vicky Winslow won Stages 2, 4 and 5 for Collins Hill's girls in 12:18, 12:03 and 11:34, respectively, while Natasha Frederick was second in Stage 1 and Brittany Yates third in Stage 3. Bronco boys Morgan Malanoski, Matt Barudin and Sean Brennan clocked times of 10:30, 10:23 and 9:41 to win Stages 1, 2 and 5, respectively, while Zac Brooks and Michael Giuliano were second in stages 3 and 4 at 10:30 and 10:22.
Collins Hill's victory over North was particularly newsworthy, considering the Bulldogs came in ranked No. 20 nationally, though without their top contender, injured three-time all-state runner Laura Serres.
A flat 2-mile race on grass to start the season is potentially worlds different than a 3.1-mile cross country races over hills and often through woods.
"You add that third mile and some hills, and it's a totally different story," Collins Hill coach Andrew Hudson said. "People can get by on talent and tactics here, but then not be ready to race a 5K."