If this weekend's Marcus I Invitational isn't the best cross country meet in the nation then all hope is lost. Marcus I is always one of the top meets this early in the season and the 2018 meet is slated to definitely live up to the historical hype.
The team races will be epic as well as the individual races. Much of the best of the best in Texas will be there including the best nationally.
Some of the most anticipated individuals will open up their seasons and some of the teams with high expectations are going to be present to get the early season test over 5,000m that you can't get anywhere else in the state.
Here is what to watch for:
Girls Individuals -
Ashlyn Hillyard is the defending 2017 Marcus I winner. Her 17:20 from last year is the fastest time of the meet in the last 10 years. She qualified for NXN last year and is back for more in her senior year. Adoette Vaughan is one of the most under appreciated runners in the state. She pretty much runs and wins what she wants to in the SPC, but she is much more than just that. Vaughan was a Foot Locker finalist last year and like Hillyard, she will be looking to get more national attention this season. Isabel Van Camp was a leader on Keller's national level team last year, but she was also an individual impact runner. Look for her to be both again this year. Brynn Brown is just a sophomore and made a name for herself last season. She is off to a great start already having run 18:08 for 5K. Ava Peeples is one of the top returners this season and she had a good start to last season going 17:40 early and then having a very good track season. Last week's Friday Night Lights (FNL) proved that Jordan Mathis is already prepared for a good season. She took second overall, but that was 2 Miles. We will see if she can continue to hit the hard paces in her first 5K. Madison Acosta is a talented veteran who can never be counted out. When she is on, she can run with the best of them. One thing for sure, you will see her in the front pack!
Girls Teams -
The first name on your mind has still got to be Keller. They still have several girls from last year's squad that just missed a podium finish at NXN. However, even though it's early it doesn't seem like there will be any wiggle room for mistakes this year. Flower Mound is the real deal! They also return a strong group of girls from last year's second place UIL 6A finish. Cedar Park had a great year last season, but they are out for more in 2018. They ran an impressive tri meet two weeks ago and showed that they are ready. We will see how the 2 Mile results translate to this weekend's 5K. Coppell won a bloody FNL race that saw girls hustling just to stay on their feet, dodging elbows, and some even left with stitches. They took on some extremely good teams and won. Look for them to ride momentum. Austin Vandegrift and Southlake Carroll also both ran very good team races at FNL and will look to improve on them and perhaps show they are better suited for the 5K. You also can't sleep on Hebron as they are still very good. They return a good number of girls from 2017 when they placed second 6A state meet.
Those are just a few of the top teams in this race and perhaps the ones everyone is expecting to see in the top of the standings. However, don't under estimate the teams that are young, hungry, smaller, and are still just as talented.
San Antonio FEAST and Dallas Ursuline Academy are the type of schools that aren't in UIL and get over looked because of it. FEAST is a home school team and DUA is a TAPPPS team and both won their state championships last year and were in out top 10 rankings at the end of the season, do not sleep on these girls!
Then there are UIL 5A and 6A teams that are having a good year so far and there just isn't much hype on them....yet. The teams like Frisco Liberty, Frisco Wakeland, Highland Park and Grapevine will beat any team in the state if they aren't take seriously. Speaking of seriously, two teams in particular that are running very well and are young, talented, carefree, and well coached are Prosper and Waxahachie. They are looking to beat everybody and I really thing they believe they can. Both teams have freshmen and sophomore girls who could be in the mix individually. Make no doubt about it, these two teams are looking to wreck the 2018 season in a way that will wake you up if you haven't been paying attention and that could all begin this weekend.
Boys Individuals -
The boys individual race will be fully loaded with most of the Texas boys individual stars except for a few of the top runners in the state.
First, it will have two state champions from the largest divisions in Texas with Jarrett Kirk (6A) and Graydon Morris (5A). Both of those two guys had outstanding 2017 seasons and could be primed for outstanding junior seasons. Then, there is Kirk's teammate and one of the top runners in the country over the last two years, in Alex Maier. Maier is coming off a summer that saw a pretty good junior season by standards for most runners - except for runners who have accomplished what he has throughout his career. Haftu Knight is also back for his junior year and he has improved year by year. Another step this season could see him hit the national scene. Next are three guys that I really like and think are possible season favorite busters. Nick Hendrix has earned the respect to be watched. He has been as solid as almost anyone over the past two years and is already off to a hot start. Kobe Yepez, much like Hendrix is another runner deserving of a mention. He is a fearless runner who will run with the front pack and is ran just a few seconds off his PR last week in his first 5K of the season. If you haven't hear of Anthony Monte, don't worry, he will introduce himself this weekend with a hot race at Marcus I to follow up his FNL win. The boys individual watch will be closed out by four guys who run hard. Three of them are from the same team and will travel from the Houston area to get a taste of that Dallas swag. Nick Majerus, Carter Storm, and Trent Nolen are Kingwood's top three gunners and they will be in the lead pack. They run with heart and heading to Denton for a reason. Pete Johnson had a disappointing finish to 2017 and this is his senior year and I don't see anything getting in his way for the state meet and more.
Boys Teams -
Flower Mound ran very well last week at Greenhill, and they did that without their top four runners. If they're second four are running that well, then the fitness for the top four should be just as good. Not to mention, they are a group fresh off of NXN last year and they still have Maier and Kirk. Kingwood and Klein are both preseason top five ranked Houston area teams that will travel to Denton for the meet. They bring a competitive teams filled with returners from their 2017 state meet campaigns. Wiley returns it's entire stop five from last year's state qualifying team and Southlake Carroll ran an impressive 4K at FNL last weekend. Cedar Park and Grapevine were both on the podium for 5A last year and they will be in the race. Grapevine has two or three guys who could have been mentioned in the individual race, but they run more with a team intent and could really do damage in this race.
The sleeper team to watch is Marcus. That's right, the host team is fresh off their win at Hebron last week where they ran pretty fast and with a ridiculous split!