Gwinnett teams, runners seek title defense at state meet

Ever since the Georgia High School Association expanded to five classifications in 2000, Gwinnett County has dominated the boys cross country state meet.

A team from Gwinnett has won the state championship every year since the turn of the century.

Brookwood head coach Ben Dehnke hopes that trend continues on Saturday at the state meet in Carrollton.

"I'd like to keep it on this side of the metro area," Dehnke said. "Since AAAAA started, a Gwinnett team has won it. The goal is to keep it that way."

Brookwood has done its part by winning the last two Class AAAAA titles. The Broncos are ranked No. 1 in the state and are heavy favorites to repeat this year. Wesleyan, which is ranked No. 1 in Class A, is going for its third straight state title as well.

"Being a state favorite doesn't do anything on the course," Dehnke said. "The guys we have on the team now, five didn't run at state last year. So they are hungry for it."

Morgan Malanoski, who took fourth at state last year, and 21st-place finisher Gabe Gomez are the only state returners. The Broncos have seniors Kevin Marsh, Drew Vander Wood, Austin Veith and Matt Barudin and junior Matthew McClintock, who have run well this season.

"I think they are excited. They are ready for it be here," Dehnke said.

Brookwood is the heavy favorite to win it all, but there's a handful of schools battling for a top-four trophy.

Mill Creek is coming off its first Region 7-AAAAA championship, while Norcross, Collins Hill and Peachtree Ridge have been strong all season. Outside of Gwinnett, Milton and Walton also have dangerous squads.

"There's seven or eight teams that could make some noise," Dehnke said.

While Brookwood is the favorite for the team title, Peachtree Ridge's Josh Brickell is the favorite to defend his individual state crown. The junior has won four races this year, including region, county, Coach Wood and the Asics Invitational where he posted a personal record of 14 minutes, 59 seconds.

In the girls race, Walton snapped Gwinnett's seven-year run as state champs. Walton and Harrison are the top two teams in the state, while last year's runner-up Brookwood will challenge them for the crown.

Collins Hill's Chloe Whitworth is the defending individual state champ. Whitworth lost to Norcross' Katherine Yost at the region meet last year and the duo are expected to battle again for the state title.

Chad McDaniel inherited a state championship program when he took over as Wesleyan's head boys coach last year. McDaniel kept the success going last year with the Class A title. With a senior-laden group, he'll try and lead the Wolves to a third crown.

"We'll see. We've got a great group," McDaniel said. "Six of our top seven runners are seniors. They've all been there before."

Bradley Gossett, who won the region meet last week, has been Wesleyan's top runner all season. This will be Gossett's fourth trip to the state meet, while a four other runners will be making their third trip to state.

"It's a seasoned group with a number of leaders. I think they are ready," McDaniel said.