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Coach Wood Invitational features deep field

Photo: Karl L. Moore Mill Creek's Eric Westog, left, leads early in Stage 5 and finishes second Saturday at the 2012 Stage Races at River Green in Duluth.

Photo: Karl L. Moore Mill Creek's Eric Westog, left, leads early in Stage 5 and finishes second Saturday at the 2012 Stage Races at River Green in Duluth.

The state cross country meet is not for another three weeks, but many of Georgia's top teams will be in one spot this weekend.

The Coach Wood Invitational has five of the state's top 10 girls teams and nine of the top 10 boys teams, making it one of the most competitive meets of the season.

"It's unofficially the all-class state meet," Brookwood girls coach Chris Carter said. "All the good teams will be there."

The race is named after former South Gwinnett cross country coach Rick Wood, who still teaches at Grayson. Gainesville State College will be the site of the race again that will feature 50 different schools in 10 different races.

"It's good prep for the state meet," Carter said.

No. 2 ranked Brookwood will face teams like Class AAAAAA's No. 1 Walton, No. 3 Milton, No. 5 Woodstock and Class AAAA's No. 1 Marist.

Norcross' Katherine Yost and Brookwood's Ashley Buda are two of the county's top runners in the race.

"It will be our last chance to race against some really good small schools and some of the bigger schools," Carter said.

The boys side features a deeper field. Mill Creek is the top team in Class AAAAAA and will face No. 2 Norcross, No. 3 Brookwood, No. 5 Walton, No. 6 Marietta, No. 8 Parkview, No. 9 Milton and Class AAA's No. 1 St. Pius and Class AAAA's No. 1 Marist.

"We'd love to beat St. Pius, since we have a friendly rivalry going with them," Mill Creek boys coach Andy Christie said. "But we can't just focus on them with Norcross, Marist, Marietta, Brookwood and Walton in the field as well. We've recently gone through a little patch of sickness and injuries, but seem to be emerging on the other side of it, so hopefully we can have a great race."

Event sponsor Nike will bring one of its athletes to the meet just like in recent years. Shannon Rowbury, a two-time Olympic finalist in the 1,500-meter run, will be the guest speaker. Rowbury finished sixth in this year's London Olympics.

"I am so proud of how big and competitive the meet has become," Christie said.

Spectators are encouraged to bring can goods for the Hope and Hoppines Canned Food Drive, which is named after the late Hope McKenzie and Tajay Hoppines. Canned goods will be collected and donated to a local food panty. There were more than 900 cans collected last year.

CROSS COUNTRY

What: Coach Wood Invitational

When: Saturday

Where: Gainesville State College

Schedule:

• 8 a.m. -- Girls championship race

• 8:40 a.m. -- Boys championship race

Noteworthy:

• U.S. Olympian Shannon Rowbury will be a special guest at the race

• Spectators are encouraged to participate in the Hope and Hoppines Canned Food Drive