* Brayden Kennedy (Flower Mound, TX) enters the Garmin MileSplit TX XC Invitational as one of the top entered athletes in the boys varsity elite race.
Over 1,800 athletes and 76 teams from Texas and beyond will take to the course at South Lakes Park in Denton, Texas for what could shape up to be quite the entertaining competition at the Garmin MileSplit TX XC Invitational, hosted by Denton Guyer.
MileSplit will be on site to provide up-to-date race coverage, including photos, articles, interviews and more.
Some of Texas' top-ranked athletes will toe the line, along with out-of-state teams that rank among the best in their respective states. With that kind of steep competition, the Garmin MileSplit TX XC Invite will certainly be a notable mid-season meet to watch this weekend in Texas.
But who will be the ones to watch for among the stacked elite fields?
Scroll below to find out which top athletes and teams could make an impressive statement in Denton this weekend.
Girl To Watch: McKenzie Bailey, Georgetown (TX)
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As one of the top runners in the state of Texas -- and ranked in the top 25 nationally so far this season -- Bailey could very well run away with the individual title in the girls varsity elite race.
Her 17:17.38 second-place finish at the FEAST Patriot Invite in early September puts her at US No. 25 and TX No. 6 for 5k, making her a solid favorite going into Saturday's competition. But Bailey has been a notable name in the 5A classification for quite some time, finishing sixth at last year's cross country state meet and fourth in 2020, so she's no newbie when it comes to leading the way in competitive fields.
As a senior, expect Bailey to take every chance she can get to win races, the Garmin MileSplit TX XC Invitational included.
She also leads the helm for a strong Georgetown team currently considered among the top 20 teams in Texas determined by 5k average and team score. With team title hopes to consider, look for Bailey to race hard to boost her squad to a meet championship win.
Boy To Watch: Brayden Kennedy, Flower Mound (TX)
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In 2020, Kennedy burst onto the scene as a sophomore for Flower Mound with 13th-place finish at the Texas 6A state cross country championships and a recorded 5k PR of 15:14.95 from districts. Now as a senior following a shortened junior cross country campaign, Kennedy appears poised to chase after new PRs and event wins.
Kennedy only raced three times in 2021 -- at regionals, states and the Team Cross Country South Regional -- but he has already returned to the course in 2022 in a big way. He made his season debut at the Marcus Coach T Invitational where he clocked 15:22.00 for fifth place in a boys field stacked with top Texas talent.
Now, Kennedy returns to Denton, this time to South Lakes Park, looking to garner another top-five finish, and potentially an individual win. With other guys in the field who boast season's bests similar to Kennedy's, including Hudson Betts (Fayetteville) and Toby Eaton (Mansfield Legacy) to name a couple, the chase for the title could quickly turn into a battle, but expect Kennedy to put himself in contention from the gun.
Girls Team To Watch: Northwest Nelson (TX)
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Currently boasting the 11th-best 5k team score in the state of Texas, the girls of Northwest Nelson enter the Garmin MileSplit TX XC Invite as a slight favorite in the team race.
Northwest Nelson comes in with the 13th-best team score among all teams in Texas, including a 5k team average of 19:22.17. But what makes the team stand apart from the rest of the field is it's quite impressive 1-5 spread -- 15.67 seconds. That puts Northwest Nelson at the top of the Texas team rankings in terms of split times, and it could prove pivotal if the team title race at the invitational comes down to the wire.
Sophomore Reyna Heisserer paves the way for Northwest Nelson with her season best of 19:16.60. Less than a second behind as the team's No. 2 comes freshman Sammy Spicer, who clocked 19:17.70 in her first high school cross country race at the Southlake Carroll Invite. Impressively, Northwest Nelson's entire top five squad features runners with season bests under 19:33.
But it won't be a cake walk for the squad from Trophy Club, Texas. Klein, currently ranked fourth in the state by 5k team average, and a McKenzie Bailey-led Georgetown squad have the depth to potentially pull off an upset.
If it turns into a tight team title race, though, Northwest Nelson may likely have the upper hand with it's small 1-5 split and come away with the coveted team win.
Boys Team To Watch: Fayetteville (AR)
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The top team in Arkansas will traveling to Texas at full force, bringing their entire boys varsity squad and chasing after a meet team title.
Fayetteville is led by senior and defending Arkansas 6A state champion Hudson Betts, who owns a 15:23.39 5k personal best and opened up 2022 with a 15:36.30 win at the McKinney Boyd Bronco Stampede. He'll come into the field hunting for an individual title that would certainly play in Fayetteville's favor for a team win.
But Betts isn't the only star among the Fayetteville top seven. Hunter Kemp and Nate Rogerson, along with Betts, rank in the top 10 for 5k so far this season in Arkansas. With the AR No. 2, 3 and 6 runners comprising Fayetteville's top three, that makes for quite the punch, and that doesn't even include fourth man Aidan Thomas, sitting just outside the state top 10 at AR No. 13.
The last time the team took a trip to Texas, Fayetteville came away with a team title at the McKinney Boyd Bronco Stampede on Sept. 10. The boys from Arkansas will look to continue it's win streak and solidify its reputation as a team to contend within Arkansas and outside of it as well.