Midlothian boys...3rd in Nike ROC
Midlothian boys...2nd in Nike ROC
The Midlothian boys and girls came away with top three finishes at the Great American Cross Country Festival held at Spain Park in Hoover, Alabama. The challenging course layout and a humid day tested all teams and individuals competing at the new venue for one of the largest and most competitive cross country invitationals in the country. The Midlothian boys validated their preseason #1 ranking in the Southeast region by finishing third overall in the Nike Race of Champions as the Southeast's top finishing team with 123 points. Finishing ahead of the US #15 Midlothian squad were two top ranked teams from the Northeast region in US #11 and NE #2 Collegiate of New York and US #21 and NE #4 Shenandoah of New York. Meanwhile, the SE #2 and US #16 Brentsville boys equally helped their cause in paving a road to Portland, Oregon for Nike Team Nationals finishing fourth (152 pts) in the Nike ROC as the region's second best squad at Great American. The Midlothian girls finished second to returning 2005 NTN squad and US #20 Episcopal of Florida in one of the closest team races of the day in the Nike ROC with Episcopal winning by 15 points over US #11 Midlothian. It was the first time ever that the Southeast region has had a ROC girls' winner at Great American, much less the top two teams in the highly competitive race. Much more to come from Hoover as well as coverage of other weekend meets in Virginia.
At the 2006 Great American Cross Country Festival in Hoover, Alabama, a challenging course layout at Spain Park and a humid day tested all teams and individuals competing at the new venue for one of the largest and most competitive cross country invitationals in the country.
The Episcopal girls of Florida, ranked #20 in the nation and #3 in the Southeast region won a close team battle between the US #11 and SE #2 ranked Midlothian of Virginia by a 15 point margin to vendicate themselves after being ranked #4 in the Southeast preseason rankings despite bringing back all returnees from a 2005 NTN 15th place finishing team. Both coaches and athletes for each team anxiously awaited the final results as mistakes in the results extended the delay to find the eventual winner. The Nike Race of Champions figured to be a great clash between two of the top teams in the Southeast region and the actual race turned out to live up to the billing.
Episcopal looked to be in control early on with a tight pack near the front of the field, but as they emerged out of the woods loop, Midlothian had closed the gap considerably to make things interesting. Episcopal's Katie Traylor was the top finisher for Episcopal with a 14th place run of 19:29.7. Episcopal was very tough up front to beat with their top three of Traylor, Laura Steel (19th, 19:45.6), and Hadley Ferguson (29th, 20:06.1) with only Midlothian freshmen Kathleen Lautzenheiser breaking up their top three in 16th place at 19:37.6.
However, Episcopal had to sweat out what looked like a decisive victory after that with Midlothian having five of the next six finishers among the two teams in M.C. Miller (37th, 20:23.9), Leia Lautzeheiser (40th, 20:26.3), Paige Johnston (42nd, 20:30.0), Christine Selander (46th, 20:41.3), and Samantha Dow (47th, 20:44.6). While not impacting team scoring, but important to note is Midlothian freshmen Amy Witt finishing second in the JV race later in the day in more miserable weather with a time of 20:41.4. Episcopal's Maggie Traylor finished in the middle of that 21 second pack of Midlo runners as Episcopal's fourth runner in a time of 20:29.6 for 41st place. A sudden runaway Race of Champions victory for Episcopal was suddenly in jeopardy with their fifth runner runner still on the course. However, Leslie Blackshear clinched the Coach Krueger's squad a major win and important step on their road to return to Nike Team Nationals finishing 62nd place in 20:58.9. Blackshear was racing under the weather and gutted up her finish for the team.
Both teams definitely showed just why they are both ranked in the top 20 in the nation as it was the first time in the history of Great American that two teams from the Southeast region took the top two team places in the Nike Race of Champions. Granted there was not serious competition for the two teams at Great American outside of the region with SO #4 Tupelo of Mississippi as the only NTN regionally ranked team outside of the Southeast competing in the meet. Episcopal coach Michelle Krueger was asked if the traditionally weaker Southeast region was building in confidence and depth on the national scene. "Absolutely. Just the way the competition has been and shaping up. They are strong. Everybody wants to go nationals, so everyone is going to work hard for it."
Both teams will meet again along with US #4 and SE #1 ranked Eleanor Roosevelt at the Manhattan Invitational at Van Courtland Park in New York City in October. Midlothian will have another opportunity against Episcopal and it will be the first matchup of the season between Episcopal and Eleanor Roosevelt. Midlothian coach Stan Morgan stated, "We are only going to get better from here." The region stands a strong chance at earning an at-large bid, but the teams from the Southeast must perform well against the top ranked teams from the Northeast region at Manhattan.
Tupelo ended up finishing third as a team with 168 points as they nearly put three runners in the top 50 places with Maggie McFerrin (27th, 20:05.0), Katherine Steinman (43rd, 20:32.7), and Emily Crow (51st, 20:49.2). In a region dominated by Texas schools with eight of the ten teams in the latest South rankings, Tupelo's stock continually improves this season as they finished third behind two top 20 nationally ranked programs in Episcopal and Midlothian.
The Southeast region rankings will be greatly impacted from the results at Great American with a few upsets by unranked teams. A total of seven ranked teams from the Southeast were at Great American with #9 South Forsyth of Georgia winning the seeded invitational division with 78 points, while the rest of the Southeast ranked teams competed in the Race of Champions.
SE #4 and US #23 ranked Tatnall of Delaware was clearly affected by the absence of their top runner Katie Kershner as they finished a distant fourth with 197 points as they were Coach Castagno's squad was led by a strong individual run by sophomore Juliet Bottorff (13th, 19:29.7). Kersher may possibly be making a return just in time for Manhattan.
Two unranked teams in the Southeast region finished ahead of ranked squads in Satellite of Florida (6th, 258 pts) and Blacksburg of Virginia (8th, 267 pts). Satellite had fifth runner issues to prevent them from previously being ranked, but their solid top four overcame their fifth in Kaitlin Shiver (28th, 20:06.1), Ashley Shiver (39th, 20:24.6), Juliana Stern (61st, 20:58.8), and Jessica Stern (66th, 21:05.2).
Finishing only two points shy of Satellite in sixth with 260 points was SE #6 Collins Hill of Georgia as they were led by Foot Locker Nationals hopeful Jackie Drouin took 15th individually in a time of 19:37.6. Allyson McGinty (34th, 20:22.0).
A race within a race was found between Virginia's top two 2A programs in SE #5 and defending state champion Brentsville girls and last year's state runner-up Blacksburg. Coach Demarco's team pulled off a big upset and victory for their Blacksburg squad in finishing five points at 267 points ahead of Brentsville (272 pts). Blacksburg sophomore Allison Homer continued to run tough and consistent this fall as the team's top runner finishing 24th in 19:59.2. Blacksburg built considerable distance on their Virginia 2A state rival with their talented top three in Homer, Cate Beranato (52nd, 20:51.2), and Laurel MacMillan (58th, 20:55.1). Despite finally beating Blacksubrg, Blacksburg coach James Demarco knew improvements would needed to be made to beat a healthier Brentsville squad later in the season "There was too much of gap in our top three and Brentsville will only get tougher."
Brentsville's top finisher was senior Becky Stewart as she edged just ahead of Blacksburg's Homer in 19:56.3 for 22nd place to foreshadow the battle that would be found between the two teams throughout the remaining finishers for each team. Depth and not front running was Brentsville's strength over Blacksburg in putting six runners ahead of Blacksburg's fifth. Lauren Bussian (67th, 21:06.2) and Amelia Emerson (6t8h, 21:06.6) were a solid front three for Brentsville behind Stewart. Meanwhile, preseason projected #2 Maggie Gentry showed positive signs of returning back form injury in less than two weeks of training to finish 94th at 21:48.8.
Scottsboro finished right off of Brentsville as Alabama's top team in tenth place with 279 points. Team from Scottsboro had a solid duo up front in Lacey Wright (25th, 19:59.7) and Emily Thompson (36th, 20:23.8). Scottsboro is currently ranked #8 in the Southeast region.
Independence sophomore Kathy Kroeger from Tennessee picked up a major win in taking the Race of Champions individual title against some quality opponents including several Foot Locker contenders for this fall. Kroeger finished 16th in last year's Foot Locker Nationals in San Diego as a freshmen. The weather was increasingly more humid and warmer for the Nike Race of Champions for the girls than the boys' race, but Kroeger did not seem to mind the weather as much as some as she had been accustomed to it in her training. "The heat wasn't too bad because it has been hot in Tennessee. I trained all summer in it." As they entered the woods loop, Kroeger found herself in a lead pack with Mississippi's Cory McGee and Florida's Ashley Brasovan. However, Kroeger was able to break away in the woods with Brasovan still giving chase. The sophomore from Tennessee finished strong over the final portion of the course to win by a 20 second margin at 17:29.1. Kroeger's win definitely has her looking ready to make another trip to San Diego this December for Foot Locker Nationals "It was really exciting last year. It be awesome to qualify again this. I feel a bit more comfortable."
Brasovan, a sophomore from Wellington High School in Georgia, joined Kroeger as the only other girl on the day to dip under 18 minutes on the tough course with a time of 17:49.1 to take second overall in a time of 17:49.1. Florida dominated up front with individuals as the state had three of the top four places in Brasovan, Cypress Bay's Emilie Amaro (3rd, 18:24.3) and Holy Trinity Academy's Kayla Hale. Brasovan is the defending 4A state cross country champion from Florida, while Amaro finished second to Brasovan in 2005. Hale also is a defending state champion from Florida as she won the 1A state race last November. "The course was pretty tough," said Brasovan, but the Florida girls certainly handled the hills well as shown by Episcopal's team win and top individual finishes from the Florida trio.
Both top ranked teams from the Northeast and the Southeast came out of Great American feeling good about themselves and helping to reinforce their standings in the Nike Team Nationals rankings. For NE #2 Collegiate and NE #4 Shenendehowa of New York being highly ranked in the preseason in their region to start the season off, they needed a meet to prove themselves. The Northeast region was shaken up considerably due to graduation last year as seen by Collegiate's rise from being unranked in 2005 to preseason #2 ranked in the preseason rankings for the Northeast region. Beating the top teams in the weaker Southeast region at Great American would certainly be a step in legitimizing their rankings.
Meanwhile, the Midlothian and Brentsville boys of Virginia, ranked #1 and #2 in the Southeast currently, would be facing the best teams in the region currently from the Deep South in the states of Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. There was plenty of criticism for Virginia having six teams ranked in the preseason rankings, so the two teams from the Old Dominion were not only at Great American to prove their own team's standings, but showcase the strength and depth of teams found in the state this fall.
Collegiate coach George Calano was very anxious to see his team compete. It was the team's first race of the year, so there had been several weeks of waiting to see how strong workouts would translate into race performances for the Northeast's #2 ranked team. Coach Calano gave his boys a race strategy and they executed to perfection by winning the Nike Race of Champions with a low team score of 59 points. "We tried to run at our threshold pace for the first mile at about 5 to 5:15 range and then work from there," said Calano. While running at a controlled pace for the first mile, Collegiate still had their entire top five in the top 40 places. The boys from Manhattan continued to work up through the hills in the woods loop and still had more left in the tank for a strong finish after cresting the last major hill in the woods. "We were going to conserve a little on the hill to save for the last 800 meters."
Collegiate's top five finished in a monsoon on a hot and muggy morning in Alabama with a 23 second time gap. Chris Williams was the team's top finisher in 11th place with a time of 16:26.2 and soon to follow Williams would be teammates Dylan Trotzuk (14th, 16:32.3), Itse Begho (17th, 16:43.6), Dwayne Alexis (20th, 16:47.0), and Peter Vizcarrondo (21st, 16:49.5). Collegiate averaged 16:39.72 on the challenging Spain Park 5K course to finish 34 points ahead of NE #4 Shenendehowa. Despite the big win, one area of concern for Collegiate has to be the fall off after their fifth runner Vizcarrondo with sixth and seventh runners finishing at distance places of 105th (18:09.1) and 142nd (18:51.1). Collegiate cannot afford to lose one of their top five runners. The team will get two weeks to savor the Great American win as their next meet will be at Van Courtland Park on October 7th in NYC Mayor's Cup.
Shenendehowa did not hurt themselves finishing second well ahead of the top ranked Southeast region teams in SE #1 Midlothian (3rd, 123 pts) and SE #4 Brentsville (4th, 152 pts) as well as NE #5 Warwick Valley (6th, 179 pts). The team was led by Saratoga Springs transfer Stephen Murdock as he finished as the individual race runner-up with a time of 15:49.6. Murdock was one of only three runners to dip under 16 minutes on the day. While Shenendehowa had the better front runner in Murdock over Collegiate, Collegiate ran away from them in the team scoring with the rest of Shenendehowa's top five more spread out.
Shenendehowa nearly put three runners under 17 minutes with Murdock, Zach Predmore (15th, 16:38.7), and Adam Quinn (27th, 17:00.4). Jamie Glover (35th, 17:10.0), and Zac Suriano (38th, 17:12.5) rounded out the New York squad's team scoring.
Top ranked Southeast squad from Virginia in Midlothian certainly has greater control over their own destiny to Nike Team Nationals as the region's top finishing team at Great American. At last year's Great American Cross Country Festival, the top two Southeast finishing teams in the Race of Champions in North Carolina's Chapel Hill and Kentucky's St. Xavier, ended up representing the region at Nike Team Nationals.
The Midlothian boys were well aware of the challenging woods loop and how a quick early pace would be ill-advised. Midlothian junior Mark Merritt explained the team's race plan, "Coach Morgan told us to take it out easy because the race was all in the second mile with the hills in the back that were pretty tough. I think we did pretty good." Pretty good is a the proper way to explain their team performance as they defeated four Southeast regionally ranked squads in SE #2 Brentsville of Virginia (4th, 152 pts), SE #5 Parkview of Georgia (7th, 195 pts), SE #7 Chiles of Florida (7th, 195 pts), and SE #8 Smiths Station of Alabama (16th, 391 pts).
Midlothian had a solid front three in Jason Witt (9th, 16:24.7), Merritt (22nd, 16:54.6), and Jonathan Mellis (31st, 17:03.0), but it was the races from their #4 and #5 runners in Thomas Cole (42nd, 17:17.5) and Tommy Reese (48th, 17:25.5) that helped distance themselves from the rest of the region's Southeast teams including their toughest challenger for the third consecutive weekend in SE #2 Brentsville.
Brentsville had finished only two points shy of Midlothian in both team's opening 5K races at the Great Meadows Invitational two weekends ago and scored a victory of the region's #1 ranked team last weekend at their home 5x2500 meter relay race.
The Tigers of Brentsville looked like they were going to be able to knock Midlothian off three runners as Adam Henken (7th, 16:20.2) and Henry Melius (10th, 16:25) packed it up on Midlothian's top runner in Witt as Melius nearly finished ahead of Witt. Brentsville's third runner Ray Delgado 932nd, 17:04.9) finished right behind Midlo's #3 Mellis in a nearly identical finish between two runners from their opening invites at Great Meadows. Through three runners, Brentsville led Midlothian 35 to 47, but a point swing of 41 points would be tipped in Midlothian's favor in the #4 and #5 runner positions.
Midlothian put five runners ahead of Brentsville's #4 Luke Watts (59th, 17:34.5) and six runners ahead of Brentsville's #5 Grant Burress (71st, 17:40.5) with Michael Hammond as Midlothian's sixth finisher in 67th place (17:38.8).
Despite finishing further back from Midlothian than the Brentsville boys would like after a close second place in their opening race and a three second victory last weekend in a 5x2500 meter relay, Coach Dulin's team is still in a good position for a NTN berth finishing well ahead of other Southeast ranked squads at Great American. The Midlothian and Brentsville teams traveled together to Hoover on a charter bus and Brentsville senior Henry Melius would certainly enjoy a second joint trip with Midlothian to Portland, Oregon in December for Nike Team Nationals. "That would be awesome. With all of our hard work and I'm sure Midlothian has been working extremely hard as well, toward that goal."
Danbury of Connecticut was a big surprise in taking fifth place with 157 points as the unranked Northeast team finished ahead of NE #5 Warwick Valley and only five points behind SE #2 Brentsville. Danbury had just one runner under 17 minutes in Willie Ahearn (18th, 16:44.8), but was well packed with their remaining top five in Matt Terry (30th, 17:02.7), Brady Becker (36th, 17:10.3), Parker Boudreau (50th, 17:26.2), and Ricky Balmaseda (54th, 17:28.6).
Parkview of Georgia, the #5 ranked team in the Southeast, finished seventh as the region's third finishing team in the field with 195 points. The team certainly is a stronger team as showed as their usual team order was all out of wack at Great American. Parkview #3 Josh Pinson ran #1 in 16th place with a time of 16:41.6, #1 Michael Winston ran #2 in 44th place (17:20.9), #5 JJ van Tonder ran #3 in 46th place (17:24.3), #2 Marcelis Lynch ran #4 in 51st (17:26.4), and #4 Brett Richardson ran #5 in 71st place (17:40.5). It was a testament to their team's strength to still finish in seventh and ahead of SE #7 Chiles of Florida (8th, 259 pts). Unfortunately for Parkview, it may be the only time this season that they will face some of the region's top ranked squads such as Midlothian and Brentsville.
The lack of a front runner really hurt Florida's top team in Chiles in coming anywhere close to striking distance to the two Virginia squads in Midlothian and Brentsville as their top finisher Chris Renneker (41st, 17:17.1) finished just ahead of Midlothian's #4 Thomas Cole (42nd, 17:17.5). Rounding out the top five for Coach Gowan's squad were Daniel Miletich (45th, 17:22.85), Calvin Vannoy (64th, 17:36.2), Stan Reecy (69th, 17:39.6), and Chris Lake (75th, 17:45.6) for the Southeast's tightest packed top five in the Race of Champions.
It was a rough day for Alabama's top team and SE #8 ranked Smiths Station as their top runner in Spencer Ferguson collapsed before the finish and was able to get up minutes later and walk in to finish (163rd, 20:57.6). Even with Ferguson's collapse, it was not a banner day for the Smiths Station boys with their first finisher not crossing the line until Rickey Martin in 62nd place at 17:35.5.
With Smiths Station falling apart at Great American, several unranked Southeast teams were able to take advantage and have high team finishes. The two squads from Tennessee in Oak Ridge (10th, 309 pts) and Baylor School (11th, 324 pts) had solid team showings that may or may not warrant NTN regional rankings this week.
McEachern High School senior Ben Hubers of Georgia won the individual title in the Nike Race of Champions in a time of 15:38.4. After the lead pack went out in a conservative pace for the first mile, Hubers decided to make a move sooner than he had planned. "I expected it go out a lot faster. I wasn't suppose to make a move until halfway in, but it went out so slow that I ended up making a move just right after the first mile and we had a nice long downhill after that and I kind of broke away from there," said Hubers.
Adam Lenz of Colorado and Brian Rhodes-Devey of New York attempted to give Hubers chase as they entered into the woods section, but Hubers was able to pull away from them.
While in the woods, Shenendehowa's Stephen Murdock began to move up to pass Rhodes-Devey and end up moving ahead of Lenz for second, but Hubers had too much left in the tank even after the final big hill in the woods loop to thrawt off any challengers. "The tough uphill took a lot out of me, but it wasn't impossible or anything. Then when I hit the long sloping downhill, I was feel pretty confident at that point and I just had to kick it in," said Hubers.
Hubers finished strong to cross the line in a time of 15:38.4 to win the Race of Champions as his performance at Great American gives him high hopes for the rest of this season as a returning Foot Locker Nationals finalist.
Hubers finished 18th in last year's race in San Diego. "Last year I really didn't know what to do coming into the race. It was my first time and I was kind of dazzled by the whole thing. This year I go in expecting how everything is going to work. This year I want to win it."
The road to San Diego will be tough for Hubers as he will face fierce competition in his own state from the likes of Walton's Jay Heller and Berkmar's Girma Mecoheso. "We [Hubers and Heller] have been rivals for the past three years. Its been great competing with him. Also this year we have a guy from Kenya named Girma, who has put down some really solid times this year. Its going to be a struggle to see how comes out on top."
Hubers also speaks well of other top runners in the Southeast region and thinks that the region well be represented this fall at Foot Locker Nationals. "I know that Southern distance running as good as it is going right now, has a reputation for crapping out. I don't think that is going to happen this year. We've got a strong bunch of guys and I know we can do really well this year."
The move of the Great American to the Deep South in Alabama certainly provides the stage and opportunity for the top individuals and teams in the Southeast to show what they are made of.