Last Saturday's Nike South Invitational performed as expected as several of the state's top teams clashed at Bear Branch Park. The race played out largely as predicted as the top teams showed out and the top individuals battled for the win as they were expected to.
However, just because the meet played out as expected doesn't mean we can't still take away some key points as we prepare to head into the championship season. So, let's take a look at some big takeaways from the Nike South Invitational and see where some of the top teams and individuals look to be.
Southlake Carroll Looks Dominant As Advertised
Coming into this weekend, we hadn't seen much of Southlake Carroll as they'd only competed over two 3-mile courses to start the year. While they'd performed extremely well as expected, some still had questions regarding how they'd look as a team over a true 5,000m course. It's safe to say they didn't disappoint.
The Dragons got out hard and took control of the race as expected, however, it was how they were able to keep that same control throughout the race was truly impressive. Caden Leonard ran away with the race from the jump and Jude Alvarez secured another podium finish. However, Carroll's depth didn't disappoint either as they posted a 15:25 average with a split of just thirty-two seconds.
Given the fact that they faced three other top-ten teams this weekend and ran away with the meet, it truly seems unlikely that anyone will mount a significant challenge to Carroll's dominance. The Dragons are simply too tightly packed at the front of races for another team to conceivably mount a challenge. Additionally, Caden Leonard and Jude Alvarez both look to be legitimate individual state title contenders.
When you couple two individual state title contenders with three other runners who finish inside the top ten at a meet as big as Nike South, it simply seems impossible to beat them. For Southlake Carroll, this season now becomes about just how far they can take this talented team.
If the Dragons continue to run together and produce at this level, we could see them fighting for the podium and maybe even a win at the national level later this Fall.
Bridgeland Looks To Be The Class Of Region 2, But There's Still Work To Do
The Bridgeland Bears have had a great start to the year as they easily won their first two meets of the season, as well as showing a solid performance at the HOKA McNeil Invitational. Heading into Nike South, the main goal for the Bears was to see where they stacked up against some of the top teams in the state.
Bridgeland's performance exceeded expectations as they finished on the podium, only twenty points behind third-ranked Tompkins. Bridgeland was once again led by star junior Benjamin Montgomery who placed second in a valiant effort, running in the 15:20s for his third consecutive meet.
The Bears were the class of the field in regard to the Region 2 teams in attendance, notably beating The Woodlands for the first time in program history. However, the Bears still have some areas for improvement if they want to cement themselves as the clear Region 2 front runners, in the way teams like Carroll have in Region 1. Benjamin Montgomery has been outstanding for the Bears at the front of races, however, the Bears need to move their depth closer to Montgomery.
In no way does this mean they have to be right with Montgomery, however, if the Bears want to see themselves in a true fight for the podium at the state meet, shortening the gap between their first and second runner will be critical. For example, Bridgeland came extremely close to knocking off Tompkins, however, the Falcons were able to place three runners in between Bridgeland's first and second runners.
If the Bears can tighten up this gap, there's no reason why they can't finish as one of the top three teams in the state as they have the pieces to do so. From here, Bridgeland's season becomes about how close they're able to move their depth to Benjamin Montgomery. They've looked great considering just how young of a team they are, and if they continue to improve this team will perform well for the rest of the season and beyond.
Tompkins Remains Consistent
Throughout this season, Tompkins has maintained and executed their races consistently and it's continued to work well for them. That remained the same this weekend as Tompkins once again used a strong trio near the front of the race to score valuable points when it mattered.
Once again led by Parker Wood, Tompkins was able to put themselves in the best positions at the right times to maximize their performance. While the Falcons weren't close to challenging Southlake Carroll, they proved why they continue to be ranked as one of the top three teams in the state.
Given the current makeup of Region 3, there doesn't seem to be a realistic challenger to the Falcons at the moment. While they haven't necessarily done anything flashy or outrageous this year, Tompkins has continued to prove themselves and respond well when they've been tested. An area of improvement for the Falcons will be seeing just how close they can get their fourth and fifth runners up to their talented trio up front.
If Tompkins can do this, look for them to not just win Region 3 but dominate it. However, the question remains, just how far can this team go? They have a formula that's worked well throughout the season and will continue working as long as they remain consistent and that makes them dangerous. On the other hand, will Tompkins be able to showcase enough improvement to be a legitimate favorite for the podium this November?
All in all, it was another good weekend for Tompkins and consistency will continue to make this team as great as they are.
The Woodlands Can Still Win Region 2
While this weekend may have been a little bit of a disappointment for The Woodlands as they weren't on the podium, by no means are they down and out of the battle for the Region 2 crown.
Where The Woodlands suffered this weekend that they haven't in previous years is the lack of a true low stick to challenge at the front of the race. However, where they made up for this was how they ran together throughout the places in the 20s. The Highlanders were able to finish with one of the smallest splits of the meet, with their first and fifth runner separated by just forty-four seconds.
Where The Woodlands and Bridgeland differ is that Bridgeland wins races by having a low-stick finish in the top three while The Woodlands chips away and scores valuable points outside of the top fifteen places. Where The Woodlands can capitalize on Bridgeland's way of racing is by moving their top three runners up a few places in the pack, as the teams were only separated by nineteen points.
While The Woodlands may not be seen as the class of their region at the moment, they always seem to turn it on when it matters which is why I wouldn't count them out just yet. From here, their season becomes about seeing just how far their top runners can get into the front of races as this will be crucial to their success going forward.
Don't count out the Highlanders quite yet, as their potential for growth makes them one of the most dangerous teams in the state going forward.