THE PLAINS, VA -- The 2006 Great Meadows Invitational to be held this Saturday in The Plains, Virginia, will have early season Nike Team Nationals implications. The meet with feature a total of six Nike Team Nationals Southeast region ranked squads including preseason SE #1 Midlothian boys. The meet will serve as an early measuring stick of some of Virginia\'s and the Southeast\'s best teams with SE #1 Midlothian, SE #6 Brentsville, SE #7 Hermitage for the boys, while the NTN teams for the girls consist of SE #3 Midlothian, SE #5 Brentsville, and SE #8 Morgantown of West Virginia. The meet will also feature an early season showdown between two of the state\'s best returning cross country runners in Mountain View sophomore Thomas Porter and Midlothian junior Jason Witt.
The Midlothian boys will be getting a tough early test as the Southeast Region\'s preseason number one ranked team to kick off their season as they go up against two Nike Team Nationals ranked squads in SE # 6 Brentsville and SE #7 Brentsville. Midlothian returns a full squad from a team that nearly pulled off a big upset in finishing six points from the AAA state title taking third place at last November\'s VHSL State Meet.
The Trojans are led by one of the top returning individuals in the state in Jason Witt as Witt posted times of 15:39 for 5K and 9:19 for 3200 meters as a sophomore last year. Witt finished third in last year\'s AAA state race and took state runner-up honors during the indoor season for 3200 meters. In Saturday\'s race, Witt will be one of the favorites to win, but Mountain View sophomore Thomas Porter stands just as great as a chance to cross the line first. Porter is coming off a comfortable 16:39 win on a sloppy and slow Loriella Park course at the Chancellor Invite last weekend to kick off his sophomore year. Porter won the Foot Locker South freshmen race last year with a 15:46 5K best and ran a 9:19 3200 best at the AAA Outdoor State Track Meet in a near state title victory. Along with last year\'s AAA cross country state runner-up Mike Spooner of West Springfield, Witt and Porter figure to be the three strongest contenders for the AAA state crown.
After Witt, Midlo returns a solid next four in senior Jonathan Mellis, junior Mark Merritt, senior Tommy Reese, and junior Thomas Cole. Mellis a returning AAA All-State cross country performer with a 16:01 best, but missed the entire track season with injury, so Saturday will be truly an icebreaker for the Midlothian senior. Mellis and Merritt should battle for the number two spot on the team througout the season and Merritt had the injury bug last cross country season, but was healthy during track and had a productive season with posting a 4:25 1600 meter best. Prior to his injury last fall, Merritt had ran ahead of Mellis in the number two spot and ran a 16:23 best at Great American. Reese (16:44 5K best) and Cole (16:42) both came on strong at the end of last cross country season and made the biggest difference in Midlothian\'s late season surge as the team\'s fourth and fifth runners.
Brentsville and Hermitage may be ranked five and six spots behind Midlothian in the Nike Team Rankings, but the gap between the three teams is considerable smaller than that. Brentsville is the defending AA state champions and have one of the toughest front three\'s in the state with Adam Henken, Henry Melius, and Ray Delgado. Melius and Henken are two of the three top returnees from last year\'s AA state cross country race finishing third and fourth respectively in 2005. Henken ran a 9:34 3200 meter time in the spring and has a 15:52 5K best. Melius returns with a 16:04 5K best, while Delgado like Midlothian\'s Merritt competed not at 100 percent in championship last fall, but ran a 16:01 5K last fall when healthy. While strong as any team in the state through three, Brentsville is a little more questionable in the fourth and five spots as far as proven cross country success and experience, but there is no doubt that Coach Rob Dulin has sophomore Grant Burress (10:18) and junior Luke Watts (10:16 3200, 16:58 5K) prepared to step up starting this weekend at Great Meadows in those roles.
Hermitage knows how to beat Midlothian. At least, they have done it before as they won last year\'s Central Region title over the Trojans before Midlothian switched positions with them at the state meet as two Central Region teams finished third and fourth respectively on Virginia\'s biggest stage last November. Hermitage returns six runners from the 2005 squad and while their lone loss was a big one in their front runner Alex Bowman, the Panthers are improved in every other position from 2005. While Bowman was a great cross country runner and made great strides especially at the 5K distance in his senior year, he excelled best over the middle distance events on the track. With that being said, senior John Vial could very well be just as good as a number one runner that Bowman was last fall if not better. Vial was actually Hermitage\'s top finisher and ahead of Bowman on a few occassions last fall including a 16:15 5K personal best run at Great American. Despite having his training interrupted with injury during indoor season, Vial came back for outdoors to run 4:25 for 1600 meters and 9:40 for 3200 meters.
Nathan Puckett was solid all fall last year as a sophomore as he ran a 16:20 best and returns as one of Hermitage\'s top returnees. Vial and Puckett both can potentially earn All-State honoros individually this season and will be up with some of the top individuals on Saturday. A strong supporting cast follows Vial and Puckett with senior Ben Hendrick (9:46 3200, 16:41 5K), senior Walter Kidd (16:54 5K), and Kieran Lee (17:07 5K). Hermitage won their first regional title last year since 1979. The last time that Hermitage won a state title goes even further back to 1977 and Coach Joe Pardue would love nothing better than to end that 29 year state drought. Current Hermitage girls\' cross country coach Mug Hedley was an assistant coach on the 1977 squad.
While plenty of focus will be placed on the three NTN ranked teams, there are several other solid teams set to compete at Great Meadows on Saturday to make for a deep field including the #9 and #10 ranked teams in the state currently in Oakton and Sherando. Both are teams that many are sleeping on coming into this fall that could really surprise some teams on Saturday.
Oakton took some heavy losses due to graduation from last year\'s AAA state champion squad including two All-State runners in James Phillips and Matt Kroetch, but return a team that will be refusing to make 2006 a rebuilding year as they expect to be very competitive this fall. The team\'s two returnees from the state championship squad in senior Alex Nissen and junior Joe LoRusso make for a solid front two as Nissen ran a 9:38 3200 on the track, while LoRusso posted a 4:25 best. Coach Phil Tiller had several of his runners that were unable to crack into last year\'s top seven develop over the track season including Matt Saunders (9:53 3200), Scott Maxfield (10:08 3200), Russel Fielding (10:15 3200), and Tony Smith (10:15 3200). Oakton also had three freshmen run under 4:50 for 1600 meters during the track season. Oakton set the tone for their season last fall when they upset Brentsville, ranked #3 in the NTN Southeast Region at the time, in winning the Great Meadows Invite.
Sherando was a surprise to some to slip into the state meet podium of third place in last year\'s AA state race, but historical wisdom should not have been such a surprise. If a school manages to be one of the four teams to get out of Region II, their chances are pretty good they are getting onto the state meet podium by finishing in the top three. Sherando returns five runners from a team that was four points away from becoming AA state runners-up last November ahead of Western Albemarle. The Warriors are led by AA 1600 meter state champion Ryan Witt with a 16:16 5K best.
Mountain View is coming off a big opening season win at the Chancellor Invite as they are led by individual favorite Porter and will be in contention to win the Northwest Region title this fall. Finishing second to Mountain View by six points last weekend at Chancellor, Jamestown, ranked #5 in AA, also will be competing at Great Meadows on Saturday.
There are certainly some talented individuals found in Saturday\'s field that will be vying for the win among the girls. Five individuals ranked in the latest \"Cream of the Crop\" top 15 state rankings will be competing at Great Meadows. Saturday will feature #7 state ranked Becky Stewart of Brentsville, #9 Kaylan Comer of Colonial Forge, #12 Brittany Copeland of Brooke Point, #13 M.C. Miller of Midlothian, and #15 Michelle Britto of Woodbridge.
Colonial Forge junior Comer is coming off a big win at the Chancellor Invite as she turned in a time of 20:04 on a slow and sloppy Loriella Park course in Fredericksburg against several top ranked runners in the state. Brooke Point senior Brittany Copeland finished third in the Chancellor race and will be looking to even the score with her Commonwealth District rival Comer on Saturday. Northwest Region will be very heavy with top individuals on Saturday as Michelle Britto, one of the state\'s top freshmen last fall as she won the freshmen mile at Nike Indoor Nationals.
Stewart and Miller will both be leading their Nike Team Nationals Southeast Region ranked squads in a great early season contest between two of the state\'s best programs in SE #5 Brentsville and SE #3 Midlothian.
Miller is a two-time state runner-up in track as she finished second at the AAA State Meet for 800 meters outdoors in her sophomore year and finished as runner-up once again this past June as a junior for 1600 meters with a 4:54 personal best time. Miller was All-State last fall and won the junior/senior race at Foot Locker South in a personal best 5K time of 18:47.
High expectations are placed on the defending AAA state champion Midlothian squad this fal. Especially with the addition of the Lautzenheiser twins, Kathleen and Leia, as the freshmen sisters not only will shake up the Lady Trojans\' previously projected top seven, which returned everyone from last fall, but the state scene as they showcased over the summer with some of their race performances. Both competed in a July 4th 5K in Charlottesville that defending AAA state champion Rachel Rose competed in and clocked times of 19:10 (Kathleen) and 19:27 (Leia) respectively. Rose, treating the race as an early summer training run, posted a time of 20:19 in the race. The twins also clocked quick track times over the summer in the AAU racing circuit. Kathleen went 4:52 for 1500 meters and 10:33 for 3000 meters, while Leia was right behind in 4:53 for 1500 meters and 10:37 for 3000 meters.
The Midlothian girls were going to be tough to beat this season without the twins, but their addition just makes the task considerably harder. Last year, Midlothian had four runners in the top 20 places at the state meet to nearly have four all-state runners with top 15 finishes. The same front four returns this fall with Miller, sophomore Paige Johnston, junior Erin Stehle, and junior Sammy Dow. Johnston earned All-State honors along with Miller in a 14th place PR finishing time of 18:56. Stehle finished one spot shy of All-State in 2005 with a personal best time of 19:04. Dow finished 18th in the state race, but ended up running a personal best and the team\'s fastest 5K time of the year at Foot Locker South with a 18:43 clocking. Dow also earned All-State honors indoors for 3200 meters in winning the slow heat with a time of 11:21.
One of Midlothian\'s top returnees actually missed the entire 2005 cross country season and was not one of the seven members returning from last year\'s state champion squad in junior Christine Selander. After missing last fall with a stress fracture, Selander came back in track to run a personal best time of 5:17. As a freshmen, Selander had a personal best of 19:39 for 5K. Midlothian sophomore Mariah Landry (19:28 5K), junior Anne Tenser (19:41 5K), and junior Tierney Willard (20:06 5K) all were important pieces of the 2005 state champion squad, yet with the return of Selander and freshmen influx of the Lautzenheiser twins, Midlothian will have runners on their \"B\" team that could run on the top five of many of the state\'s best teams.
This Saturday will be a role reversal for Midlothian from one year ago as they are the favorites being ranked #1 in the state and #3 in the Southeast for Nike Team Nationals. Last year, Midlothian was the underdogs as they were unranked in the Southeast, yet defeated two NTN Southeast ranked teams in SE #3 Oakton and SE #7 Brentsville.
Brentsville now has the opportunity to pull off the upset like Midlothian did in 2005 and should definitely give Midlothian their toughest in-state this weekend and this season with the team that returns from their 2005 AA state champion team. Coach Dulin\'s team will be led by one of the best in AA in Becky Stewart. Stewart was last year\'s state runner-up in cross country for AA and has a personal best of 18:25.
Brentsville\'s team battled injuries after the cross country season during track, but with the team all back and healthy on Saturday behind a great front runner in Stewart, the Lady Tigers can show a peak of what is to come this fall. Sophomore Maggie Gentry improved by great strides in track from cross country during her freshmen year and is expected to run number two for Brentsville this season with her 5:13 1600 and 11:26 3200 bests.
Brentsville returns a pair of All-State cross country runners in Stewart and Amelia Emerson as Emerson finished ninth (19:13) in last year\'s AA state race, while sophomore teammate Lauren Bussian just missed All-State last fall with a 16th place finish (19:28).
The depth continues past the front four with senior Julia Mitchell (19:37 5K), junior Alex Kulifay (19:40 5K), and Samantha Woodward (19:54 5K).
The last of the three Nike Team Nationals Southeast ranked squad that will be in attendance on Saturday is SE #8 Morgantown of West Virginia, who has suffered two consecutive early season defeats at the hands of crosstown rival University in conference meets, but has competing without three of their top seven runners. The Morgantown coach John Patti is hoping to have his team closer to full strength this weekend as Great Meadows will be the second of two Virginia meets the team from West Virginia will be taking this month to face Nike Team Nationals Southeast Region competition as they will return later in the month for the Maymont Festival.
The great depth of teams goes beyond Midlothian, Brentsville, and Morgantown. #5 state ranked Douglas Freeman, #6 Oakton, and #8 Colonial Forge will all be on hand as well. All three teams will be looking to establish themselves as early AAA state meet podium caliber teams.
Freeman will have a heavily touted front three in Meredith Cox, Jamie Machich, and Casey Fowler. Cox won the Central Region title for 3200 meters indoors and has a 11:24 best in the event, but missed the entire outdoor season with a stress fracture. However, Cox will be back and ready to race this weekend in the opener and will have a solid team backing her up with Jamie Machich, a 19th place finisher in last year\'s AAA state race, and Casey Fowler, competing in her first cross country season after running a 5:15 1600 during track season.
Like their male counterparts, the Oakton boys took some hard hits to graduation but have enough depth and development of talent during the track season to put together another formidable squad this fall after finishing as AAA state runners-up last season. The Lady Cougars return senior Meredith Tighe with a 19:25 5K best and 5:11 1600 from track. Sophomores Nora Meehan (19:24 5K) and Haillie Eilerts (5:11 1600, 20:11 5K) will also be Oakton\'s probable fron three on Saturday with Tighe. Katie Esselburn (20:23 5K) and Suzanne Capehart (20:55 5K) round out five solid returnees for Coach Raczko\'s squad.
Colonial Forge girls were big winners at Chancellor Invite, but will need to have better performances out of their fourth and fifth runners to keep up with some of the state\'s best teams on Saturday. Their front three looked great at Chancellor with race winner Comer, Molly Hawkins, and Kathleen Wade all running under 21 minutes on a challenging Loriella Park course, but hope to get Jordan Zarone (11:34 3200, 19:28 5K) back for this weekend\'s race.
Outside of Maymont and the state meet, this year\'s Great Meadows Invitational could have the largest number of Nike Team Nationals caliber squads from any meet in Virginia this fall. First races start at 9:00 am with the college women and finish with the start of the JV girls at 1:45 pm.