4A West Predictions:
For starters, I think it's always worth mentioning that any predictions should always be taken with a grain of salt. The predictions below only represent one fans opinion of what is likely to happen this Thursday at Watkins Mill HS. While the county results are a good place to start from, things can and often do change dramatically from Counties to Regionals.
This year at counties, we saw some of the best running conditions possible. Not only was the temperature nearly perfect, there was little wind and the ground was hard (i.e. fast) from a lack of rain the entire month of October. The pristine conditions lead to some very fast times that may have been up to 10-20 seconds faster than last year's times. (Even though the weather conditions were mostly good last year, the ground was softer from rain before the meet). Combine that with a fairly flat course and nearly everyone ran a great time. The Watkins Mill Regional course will be a different story. While it looks like clear skies for race time, temperatures will be on the chillier side and moderate winds will be present. And the course itself will challenge runners with 4 difficult hills - all between 1-2.5 miles into the course. Runners must traverse twice up through a hill in the woods which can be especially challenging in wet conditions (The 1st time is right after mile 1 and the second time right before mile 2). After the second time through, runners must go down a steep grass downhill that most runners waste energy on by breaking instead of letting gravity do its work and then go straight into a long steady uphill along the sidewalk along Watkins Mill Rd. Finally, runners go down one last steep grass downhill and then have to power up the last big hill which is a steep, but short grass hill. From here it's a flat half mile to go with one short steep downhill with about 400 meters left and a raucous crowd cheering the whole way in. Run a good time here and you'll know that you earned it.
Girls 4A West:
The top 5 teams in the girls 4A west are locks to qualify for states. For each of these teams, it would take more than one major calamity (i.e., injury, sickness, etc) to keep these teams on the sidelines at the State meet. For the top 5, the results will stay the same as counties, except for a slight upset of Whitman in 4th, Churchill in 5th. (Slight, because if you take the county results and only keep the 4A teams, Whitman would have scored 102 to Churchill's 103. ) At the moment, these are two teams going in opposite directions and unless Churchill is able to reverse their current trend this season, Whitman could easily widen that gap further. NW should win overall fairly easily although QO might make it close points wise. WJ is running well, but isn't likely to make up much ground on NW or for that matter lose much ground to Churchill or Whitman either.
Next is Wootton, who should finish 6th. Wootton would have scored 133 points at Counties if you only counted the 4A runners, which is between 50-60 points ahead of the next three teams. Bigger swings HAVE happened before, but it seems a bit farfetched that two teams below Wooton could pass them to keep them out of states. The biggest drama for Wootton could easily be to see if Jesse Rubin can bounce back from a 7th place at counties and take one of the top 3 spots (She was only 10 seconds away from 3rd at Counties).
The next group of teams is where the real drama lies this year at least in terms of getting that last coveted spot to the State meet. Blair, Sherwood and RM finished neck and neck at counties (4 points spread) and would have finished with 184, 190 and 191 points respectively if you only count 4A runners. With seven teams going to states, it will be a heck of a fight for the final spot and in reality it could finish in any order. RM however is coming off of a great race at counties with huge improvements from their 1-4 runners from their dual meet on the same course 3 weeks earlier. Senior Alana Moore seems to have returned to her best running form in 2 years and freshmen Genesis Porquin has improved by leaps and bounds this season to come in as their #3 runner at Counties. Sherwood, who does not have a single senior in the top 7, has been a model of consistency and steady improvement with Junior Teresa Cronin and Sophomore Olivia Mahlmann leading the way. Blair also with a very young team (only one senior in the top 7) has had a great deal of success winning division III, moving up to Div. II next year and finishing ahead of both Sherwood and RM at Counties. Too much success though can cause a team to become complacent and it will be interesting to see if they can motivate themselves for one more big race. In a slight upset, RM's depth, a faster 6th runner to break any ties and the fact that they are peaking at the right time gives them the edge in a very close race followed by Sherwood and then Blair. Out of this group, Cronin, Moore, Mahlmann, Julie Moore (RM Senior), Elaine Chung (Blair Senior) and Roxanne Oroxom (Blair Junior) all have a shot at qualifying individually should their respective teams not qualify.
Magruder, Gaithersburg, Springbrook and Blake round out the last three teams and will likely finish in that order as well. While having somewhat off seasons in the team competitions this year, Abby Spitler of Gaithersburg is a bright spot in this group and a runner to look out for as she goes after a top 3 finish at Regionals and States.
As far as the individual winner the race should prove as exciting as the county race which saw a pack of 10 runners stay together for most of the race. Unfortuantely, the layout of the course should easily prevent that from happening this time around, but I will go out on a bit of a limb and pick Anna Bosse of WJ who has been gaining confidence all season to give Britt Eckerstrom of NW a close race with Britt winning it in the final kick and Spitler close behind. The rest of the top 10 girls won't be too far behind, but the spread will be bigger than at the County meet.
Boys 4A West:
There's no question that WJ should easily win this one after their impressive display at counties. For them it will be a good warm-up for the even more challenging state course in another week. Sherwood and NW will run well, but simply can't match the depth of WJ this year. The score will be close for 2nd place, but Sherwood will come out on top. Sherwoods 1-3 punch of Haile, Balderson and Lowe will build up too much of a cushion for NW's 4/5 runners to overcome. All things being equal Churchill will run an improved race at counties and narrow the gap, but will still come up a few points short on NW/Sherwood. However, if either of those teams slip up and have an off race they could easily fall behind Churchill in the final standings.
RM and Whitman should be fighting it out for 5th and 6th place. RM has an impressive pack this year and like their girls team seems to be peaking at the right time. Whitman on the other hand has been led all season by Palmer and Silver-Korn, but has lacked the depth to compete with the top tier teams. Amongst only the 4A runners only, Whitman actually would have slightly edged out RM with a score of 145-147 at the county meet. On the challenging Watkins Mill course, depth of RM will narrowly beat out the strong front running of Whitman. Either way, both teams should advance to States.
Things get a bit more interesting for the next 3 teams - Gaithersburg, Magruder and QO. All three teams have talented front runners, but again like Whitman lack the necessary depth to compete with the top tier teams. The result here should match the counties result. In fact, Gaithersburg edge actually becomes bigger when you only look at the 4A runners and would have won this group with a score of 159 to Magruder and QO's score of 183 and 202 respectively (They only beat Magruder by 21 at Counties, but have a 24 point edge when only 4A is included despite a smaller field of runners). QO or Magruder certainly do have the potential to steal that last spot to states from Gaithersburg, but it will require a very strong effort from either team in order to make it happen. Antonio Palmer (GB Senior), Nicholas Escobar (Magruder Junior), Wayne Bartholomew (QO Senior), Vikas Bahtia (GB Senior), Chris Gregorski (Magruder Senior) should easily qualify individually even if their teams don't and Conor Spaulding (QO Sophomore), Shane Stepek (GB Sophomore) and Thomas McNamara (QO Junior) are also runners to keep an eye as potential individual qualifiers to states.
Blair, Wootton, Springbrook and Blake round out the final 4 teams in the 4A west regional meet in that order and it's unlikely that the results from county would change. The highlights from this group are Rutvij Pandya (Blair Senior) who should easily qualify for states and Greg Vogel (Blair Senior) and Willy Wise (Springbrook Sophomore) who could qualify individually as well.
As for the individual race, Haile and Palmer are in a class of their own and will again finish 1-2. The biggest suspense might come down to how long Palmer can keep this one a close race or whether or not Haile can break 16 minutes at the Watkins Mill course (Low 16's are more likely though especially if the race conditions are less than ideal). No matter what, spectators should enjoy watching these two run as much as possible as it will likely be a while before MoCo again has two such talented runners at the same time. There will also likely be more intrigue into who finishes 3-5 and in the top 10 overall simply because the fight for those places will be far more competitive. In the best of the rest, Antonio Palmer and Nick Escobar have set the bar high, but it will be difficult to stay atop the Sean's of Churchill and WJ, Alex Willet of WJ and Kyle Balderson of Sherwood who all finished within 10 seconds of Antonio Palmer at counties.