2023 TSSAA State Championship
Since taking over as editor, I've tried to avoid making explicit predictions however, the preview for this year's competition was as close as I've come to doing so over the past three seasons by implying the outcome in ranking each title base on predictability. Now that we're a couple of weeks removed from the State Championship, it's time to take a look back at those to see what of those came true, and what did not in order of how we ranked them.
1. Division II Class A Girls Individual
What We Implied: Abby Faith Cheesman Would Win
Abby Faith Cheeseman not only won her fourth Division II Class A State Title, she ran her fastest time ever at Sanders Ferry with 16:44. On top of that, she had her largest margin of victory to date with a 3:02 gap between her and runner up. On this season, her slowest 5k is 17:04. With three weeks off to prepare for FootLocker South, I suspect she'll be ready to continue this trend of fast times and punch her third trip to Balboa Park. The biggest surprise here was Columbia Academy's Presley Miller leapfrogging a lot of other girls who were projected Top 10 to finish 3rd overall with a 1:18 improvement over her in-season best.
2. Division II Class AA Girls Team
What We Implied: Webb Girls Would Win
One quote from our preview I want to revisit is "but the depth of Webb... will be too much for the defending champions to overcome even on their best day." I'm going to unpack two parts of this statement. Approximately 10 minutes prior to the race, I saw Anna Graves, the runner up in this division from a year prior, in a walking boot making her way to towards the finish line area to be able to view the race as a spectator. While she still hopes to race at NXR (and I hope she does) she was precautionarily held out of the state race. Webb still put five girls in the top twelve and six ahead of Harpeth Hall's fourth. That's depth. Harpeth Hall even had "their best day" comparatively to Harpeth Hall. Their team average was 19:02 which is a faster average than their two averages from their state championship teams. In 2022 their average was 19:28 and in 2021 their average was 19:52. Only Webb will be graduating a scoring team member from this race heading into 2024.
3. Division I Class AAA Girls Team
What We Implied: Brentwood Would Win
As they had been projected to do so all year, Brentwood won their fourth title in a row but it was not at the level of comfort they enjoyed the previous season or what the projections suggested would occur. Instead, in the weeks leading up to the meet, illness swept through the Bruin creating uncertainty of who would actually be available for the championship race. Ultimately, all who fell ill would start the race and though not all finished, just enough would make it though to keep the streak alive. Lia Banovac, who missed region, started but didn't finish, Rachel Haws, who placed third in this race a year ago and first for the Bruins at region, fell back to 33rd and fourth for the team and yet they still posted a team average of 19:06 (faster than any of their previous championship teams) and a team spread of 1:00 (smaller than any of their previous championship teams). The Bruins scored 92 points to Hardin Valley's 136 and Beech's 141. Every team in the top ten will return 5 of 7 runners or more heading into next season which makes this division all the more intriguing next year as well.
4. Division I Class AA/A Girls Team
What We Implied: Signal Mountain Would Win
In the past, the common conception of the best team in the smaller of the Division I classes would be a middle of the road team in the largest but as this season unfolded, you could tell this Signal Mountain team was bucking that trend. The only Tennessee teams that finished ahead of them in a meet during the regular season were Webb, Brentwood, and Harpeth Hall and after state, those are still the only teams. The Eagles won their second title in a row with their fastest team average (19:40) and largest margin of victory (60) since we moved back to AA/A in 2021.
Signal put five runners ahead every other team's 4th and all but one team's 3rd. With no scoring runners graduating, it's hard to see how other teams can challenge their continuity heading into next season.
5. Division II Class A Boys Team
What We Implied: Columbia Academy Would Win
Columbia Academy won but it's worth pointing out again just where this team was (or wasn't) last year. A year ago they failed to qualify for state as a team after finishing fourth in the Middle Region to USN, DCA, and BGA running an 18:48 team average on a fair weather day in October of 2022 at this very same course. Fast forward one year and Columbia Academy of 2022 meet Columbia Academy of 2023:
Their 17:02 average is the fastest of any Division I-A Team at Sander's Ferry since the State Championship was moved there but according to Coach Henson, they want to be the fastest Division I-A team ever next season (I don't have the number readily available but I believe its in the mid-16's). With zero seniors on the team, I wouldn't rule it out.
6. Division II Class A Boys Individual
What We Implied: Joshua Cross Would Win
Since I've taken over as editor, this division has had a consistent trend: The top returning finisher from state the previous year would go on to win state the following. CA's Connor Henson then DCA's Drew Johnson and now CAK's Joshua Cross. Cross had been the on paper leader all year by a significant margin but with very little course crossover and head to head between himself and those ranked behind him, there were still question marks heading into state. For the first mile of the race he let others lead but moved to the lead before the second lap and never looked back.
By the finish he would distance himself from CA's Ty Withrow by fourteen seconds claiming the state title. Withrow will now assume the position of top returner in 2024 but as will 10 of the top 15 including Lausanne's Jack Hagerman who finished just two seconds behind.