The Blue Devils appear to be the team to beat in Class AAAAAA after being ranked No. 1 in the state’s highest classification in the preseason poll published by MileSplit GA.
Marietta will put its ranking on the line for the first time this weekend, when it opens the season in the Kosh Classic at the Westminster School.
While Marietta coach Jack Coleman is excited about his Blue Devils’ No. 1 ranking, he said that he and his runners are more focused on where they’re ranked at the end of the year.”
“It’s exciting, but it’s something that we’re not too focused on right now,” Coleman said. “There are about four to six teams that have a chance of finishing on the podium at the end of the year, and we hope that we’re one of them.”
Marietta returns most of its key runners from last year’s team, which finished sixth in the Class AAAAA state championship. It will be a veteran Blue Devil team that lines up at the starting line, with six of the top seven runners being seniors.
“These guys have been in the program for awhile,” Coleman said. “We have three runners who have been with us for four years, and the rest of them have been with us for three years.”
Leading the way is senior Ben Pleak, who finished 36th at the state meet last year and followed that in the spring with an eighth-place showing in the 3,200-meter run at the state track meet.
Pleak is showing signs of having a breakthrough year after a productive offseason of training. He also broke 16 minutes for the first time with a time of 15 minutes, 58 seconds in winning June’s Summer Solstice Cross Country 5K.
Coleman is confident that Pleak will be the go-to runner Marietta lacked last year.
“He’s running really well,” the coach said. “He’s been putting in good training all summer long. We didn’t really have a top guy last year, and it looks like Ben can fill that role for us.”
Right behind Pleak are fellow seniors Jaylen Ferguson and Jake Bagwell.
Ferguson and Bagwell were the top finishers for Marietta at the state meet last year, with finishes of 27th and 34th, respectively. They also led the way for the Blue Devils at the Region 5AAAAA meet with fifth- and sixth-place showings.
“Jaylen and Jake are right on top of each other,” Coleman said. “They run about 16:25-16:26, and we’re expecting big things from them.”
Seniors Trager Kviten, Alexander Goolsby and Orlando Frazier round out Marietta’s veteran contingent.
Maintaining Marietta’s top ranking isn’t the main concern for Coleman early on as he looks to use the early-season meets for building and developing and peaking during the postseason.
“We always start a little slow, but we bring it on later in the year,” Coleman said. “We want to be at the top at the end of the year, but we’ll see how it goes.”