Foot Locker South Coverage: San Diego or Bust!

Foot Locker South is coming up this weekend as McAlpine Greenway Park in Charlotte, North Carolina will host the best cross country runners from the 14 state region with state of Virginia bringing in some of the best that the South has to offer. Virginia returns two Foot Locker All-Americans in junior Aurora Scott and senior Catherine White, who finished third and sixth respectively in last year\'s Foot Locker South seeded girls race. Scott is the top returnee and is expected to challenge Kathy Kroeger of Tennesee for the win as well as make a run at former Langley star and three-time Foot Locker South winner Erin Keogh\'s 16:45 course record at McAlpine from 1986. White is simply looking to make it back to San Diego with a top ten finish. West Springfield senior Mike Spooner and Abingdon junior Griff Graves are looking to earn their first trips to Balboa Park for Foot Locker Nationals and give Virginia boys their first multiple FL Nationals qualifiers since 2001 when Bobby Lockhart, Matt Keally, and Fleet Hower all qualified from Virginia. Several other Virginia individuals stand outside shots at cracking into the top ten and at least earning All-South top 24 honors in the seeded race. will be on-site with coverage in Charlotte with Brandon Miles and John Herzog. Visit the official meet website for more information on Foot Locker South.

Girls Preview

Aurora Scott is the best high school cross country runner in the state of Virginia that no one will ever see at a high school meet. Being homeschooled and trained by her parents, Scott takes an unconventional approach in getting to point A to point B the fastest and despite what some may think of the approach, one cannot argue with the results and times put up by Scott this season. After going MIA following her All-American eighth place run at Foot Locker Nationals as the South Region\'s top finisher, Scott reappeared in late August just in time for receiving any pre-season hype by posting a 17:08 5K and more impressive 1:18 half marathon at the Rock-n-Roll Half Marathon in Virginia Beach. Lets put in perspective how amazing her performance was in looking at her splits with a 18:08 first 5K and putting up another 18:08 5K to hit 10K in 36:16. After hitting ten miles in 59:07, Scott slowed down in her last 5,000 meters of the race with a 19:10 split. The fastest time at the VHSL State Cross Country Championships, albeit a slow Great Meadows 5K course with less than ideal weather and course conditions, was a 18:53 from AAA state champion Rachel Rose, but it is hard to imagine any of the participants at Great Meadows to be able to run a 19:10 5K after running ten miles under six minute mile pace.

Despite having beat sophomore Kathy Kroeger of Independence High School in Tennessee on two occassions last year at Foot Locker South and Foot Locker Nationals, Kroeger has been given the pre-race favorite title after a sensational cross country season so far that has elevated her onto the national stage after a big win at the Great American Cross Country Festival in September. In Hoover, Alabama, Kroeger beat one of the South Region\'s best in Ashley Brasovan of Florida by 20 seconds with a time of 17:29 on a challenging Spain Park 5K course on a humid day. Kroeger was less than two minutes behind two of the top individual boys finishers on the day in Ben Hubers of Georgia (15:38) and Stephen Murdock of New York (15:49). Both Hubers and Murdock are favorites to qualify for Foot Locker Nationals within their respective region.

Kroeger has continued to run well this fall as she enters Saturday\'s showdown with Scott as she broke 17 minutes for 5K on a moderately challenging Tennessee state course with a time of 16:59 and more impressive stat of the meet in finishing only 55 seconds behind the top boys time of 16:04 by Clay Adams. Clay Adams is no Griff Graves or Mike Spooner as Tennessee does not have any individual considered as a strong contender to challenge for one of the top ten Foot Locker Nationals spots on Saturday, but Kroeger\'s performance is impressive nonetheless.

With Scott having not had the opportunity to race against high school competition this season, it is tougher to compare her performances and makes her a bit more of a unknown. However, Scott does have a race against some high quality college competition this season under her belt at the Lou Onesty Invitational hosted by the University of Virginia at Panorama Farms on September 9th. The race featured three collegiate All-Americans as the top three finishers with race winner Michelle Sikes of Wake Forest (17:20), race runner-up Emily Harrison of Virginia (17:43), and Maria-Elena Calle formerly of Virginia Commonwealth University. Sikes finished 15th (21:09) in Terre Haute, Indiana at Monday\'s NCAA Division I National Championships, while former Warren County star Emily Harrison took 20th in 21:13. Scott finished sixth in the race at Panorama Farms with a time of 17:59 and finished 39 seconds behind Sikes and only 16 seconds behind Harrison.

The big question will be if Kathy Kroeger or Aurora Scott can break the 20 year old course record held by Virginia\'s own Erin Keogh of 16:45 set in 1986. Plenty of great runners have came to McAlpine every year to test themselves against the mark, but Keogh\'s performance has survived the test of time for two decades. Kroeger and Scott are clearly great talents, but Keogh was an even greater talent or at least her times easily distance this year\'s two big favorites with a 16:14 5K junior class national record and US #6 all-time 3200 meter time of 10:03. Keogh was a three-time champion at Foot Locker South.

Northside senior Catherine White will be looking to bounce back from her state race as she underestimated the difficulty of the course and weather conditions at Great Meadows. With her third consecutive Group AA state cross country title, White ended up winning only by a six second margin over Brentsville\'s Becky Stewart and sixth fastest time of the day at 19:18 as she collapsed upon crossing the line on a very rare instance of one of Virginia\'s greatest distance runners ever not appearing to be like \"Superwoman\" like. However, it is not the first time that White has had trouble this season as she had to drop out at Great American as well due to a leg cramp.

White has proven herself in the past and this season though to be not only of the best distance runners in Virginia, but the entire South region as well. Last year, Scott and White led Virginia and the entire South region as the top two finishers at Foot Locker Nationals as White finished four seconds behidn Scott in a time of 17:53. During the track season, White was a national runner-up in the two mile at Nike Indoor Nationals with a 10:32 personal best (full 2 mile) and snuck into the All-American top six at Nike Outdoor Nationals in winning a slower section of the mile in a 4:53 personal best (full mile).

With the attention being focused on a possible battle between Kroeger and Scott, the radar seems to be not picking up White, but should with her past credentials. However, White\'s plan may just to make sure she qualifies for Foot Locker Nationals as last year it seemed she did just that by finishing sixth at Foot Locker South then finishing 11th at Balboa Park in San Diego as the region\'s second finisher.

One cannot make the mistakes of sleeping on Albemarle senior Rachel Rose. The state of Virginia already did that once this season going into the VHSL State Cross Country Championships at Great Meadows with the defending AAA state championg overcoming the doubters and mid-season stress fracture injury to win the fiercly competitive AAA race in the meet\'s fastest time in 18:53. Rose, a state champion last spring for 3200 meters as well with a 10:43 best, showed great mental toughness in her state title defense and will need the same toughness in sticking with the front pack of runners at McAlpine vying for tickets to San Diego. Do not be shocked if you see Rachel Rose in the top ten as they round the lake at McAlpine as she only knows one way to race and that is tough. There are no hills to break runners like Rose did at the state meet, but the fast pace that runners hoping to make it to Foot Locker Nationals need to sustain early and hold can be as mentally grueling as any hill.

James River junior Kristen Wolfe, who was one of the pre-race favorites to win the AAA state title only to see the finish line and a state championship in sight vanish by collapsing with less than 100 meters left in the race battling with Rose and others, looks to bounce back at Foot Locker South as she has been one of Virginia\'s top runners this fall. Wolfe had an exceptional race at her regional meet to clock a 17:58 5K at Pole Green Park and run the fastest time ever at the venue. The fastest time previously held at Pole Green was a 18:13 from Aurora Scott in 2005 on the old Pole Green course. The Pole Green course was modified this year and appears to be running at least ten seconds faster than the old course, so it appears Wolfe is close to the level of fitness of a 2005 Aurora Scott, which turned out to be a Foot Locker Nationals bound Scott. Wolfe also finished only nine seconds behind White at the Octoberfest Invite in October. Wolfe is hoping the same holds true for her on Saturday in being able to stay close to White and other top girls in the region.

For both Rose and Wolfe, this will be their first trips to Foot Locker South and lack of race experience at McAlpine in November can be an area of concern, but Rose\'s toughness and Wolfe\'s talent can probably override a lack of Foot Locker experience.

Looking at just the top four individuals coming in, Team Virginia looks they could possibly fair very well. Scott has a chance to win. White can finish top five or better. Rose and Wolfe look to have top 20, top 15, or better performances in them. If they can run up to top form, Virginia will be very tough through four and can run with many of the other states front four, but who will be the fifth finisher for Virginia in Charlotte? There are several runners to look for to step up for Team Virginia in hopes of the state taking first or second in the team scoring in the seeded race.

Colonial Forge junior Kaylan Comer is the third fastest Virginia returnee from the 2005 Foot Locker South race in 33rd place with a time of 18:15, but it appears that the next returning finisher in Brentsville senior Becky Stewart (51st, 18:34) appears to be the strongest coming in and a possible All-South (top 24) performer. Stewart finished surprisingly close to Catherine White in the AA state race with a time of 19:22.

However, probably the biggest talent and potential to finish in the top 24 for Virginia are W.T. Woodson senior Sarrah Hadiji and Great Bridge senior Kristy Tobin. Along with Wolfe, both were considered strong threats to win the AAA state title at Great Meadows, but neither had great days with Hadiji having to drop out after turning her ankle in the second mile and Tobin falling off the lead pack to finish fifth overall and 23 seconds behind race champion Rose. However, both at their best can run with many of the South region\'s top runners. Hadiji and Tobin will both look to getting under 18 minutes for the first time as they both share an identical 5K personal best of 18:11. Hadiji tuned up for this weekend in a 3200 meter race this past Saturday at Chantilly High School with a 11:09. Tobin should benefit from racing on a flatter course at McAlpine with her 4:53 1600 and 2:12 800 speed.

Last year Virginia had a race champion in the junior and senior girls race with Midlothian\'s M.C. Miller and has plenty of depth to have high place finishers and possible race championships this year in the freshmen and sophomore girls race or junior and senior girls race. While the majority of the top runners in each class will be racing in the seeded race division, some of Virginia\'s top runners in their respective classes will race in the non-seeded divisions. However, the available entries do not indicate which runners are registered in which races to make any predictions for how Virginians will perform in those races.

After heavy rainfall earlier into this week through Turkey Day, weather conditions should be good for Friday\'s course preview and Saturday\'s races with highs in the low 60s and sunshine. However, it remains to be seen how well McAlpine will be able to dry out from this week\'s rainfall.

Boys Preview

Great runners, great competitors, and now great representatives for the state of Virginia as West Springfield senior Mike Spooner and Abingdon junior Griff Graves lead all Virginians as the strongest two individuals likely to garner top ten finishes in Charlotte to earn trips to Foot Locker Nationals. Spooner and Graves have only had one encounter this season with Spooner getting the best of Graves at the Maymont Festival by 11 seconds with a winning time of 15:35.

Both have had enough strong race performances this fall to warrant them to be considered top ten finishers in the pre-season and all-season long in\'s Foot Locker favorites list by Steve Underwood. Both are coming off state championship wins at Great Meadows with Spooner taking a 15:53 win in the AAA race for his first state cross country title after winning two 3200 meter titles during track in indoor and outdoor, while Graves picked up his second straight state championship in Group AA and only two seconds slower than Spooner at 15:55.

With a 14:51 clocking at the Patriot District Meet, Spooner moved up to #13 all-time at the historic Burke Lake Park 2.98 mile course in which many high school cross country greats have raced on. More than a handful of Foot Locker finalists find themselves on the list with 1999 and 2000 FLS champion Alan Webb at #1 (13:57), 1994 FLN qualifier and 1995 and 1996 FLS champion Sharif Karie at #2 (14:19), 1979 FLS champion Dwight Stephens at #4 (14:29), 1995 and 1996 FLN qualifier Eric Kweeder at #7 (14:45), 1995 and 1996 FLN qualifier Eric Post at #8 (14:48), 1997 FLN qualifier Andrew Macleod at #15 (14:52), and 1983 FLN qualifier Clifford Holz at #23 (14:57). Spooner would like to make the total of those names on the Burke Lake All-Time as Foot Locker Nationals qualifiers to nine as Chantilly\'s Brad Siragusa showed last year how tough it is to get on the Burke Lake list, which cuts off at sub 15 performances by qualifying for Foot Locker Nationals despite having not broken 15 minutes at Burke Lake.

History is also on the side of Graves as well. Graves has already ran a 15:03 5K at McAlpine this season at the Wendy\'s Invitational in early October. Only on two occassions since Foot Locker South started in 1979 has a 15:03 at McAlpine not qualified a runner for Foot Locker Nationals with two years coming fairly recently in 2001 and 2003. However, only eight runners qualified for Foot Locker Nationals then as the number of qualifiers was expanded to ten automatic qualifiers last year. In both 2001 and 2003 at McAlpine, a time of 15:03 would earn a runner a top ten finisher. Graves would definitely like to not only match his time from Wendy\'s but better it and dip under 15 minutes to firmly secure a ticket to San Diego.

Spooner has yet to race any of the Foot Locker South top contenders this season with the exception of Graves, but Graves faced one of North Carolina\'s best in Ryan Hill at Wendy\'s with Hill winning in 14:55. Hill finished 15th in last year\'s seeded race at Foot Locker South and is one of the top returnees in the field.

Hoping Virginia can get more than two qualifiers for the boys might seem a little too greedy and getting carried away as Virginia has not had more than one qualifier since 2001 with Lockhart, Keally, and Hower. However, if Midlothian junior Jason Witt can hang with Mike Spooner like he did at the state meet in the AAA race until Spooner pulled away for a six second win in the final 400 meters of the race, Witt could definitely find himself among the lead packs fighting it out for the ten spots. Witt was preseason ranked at #11 in the region by Steve Underwood after running a 9:19 3200 last spring as a sophomore.

While the Midlothian girls are sitting out all of their runners at Foot Locker South to rest for a possible run at a team national championship at Nike Team Nationals in Oregon next Saturday, the NTN bound Midlothian boys will have a few of their runners sharpening up for Oregon as they have the legs to do it with a light racing schedule during the regular season. Witt will be attempting to extend his week even a season longer and spend another week on the West Coast as an outside threat to crack the top ten to qualify for Foot Locker Nationals in San Diego, California. Midlothian\'s #3 runner Mark Merritt and #7 runner Bray Wilkins also will be racing for the Trojans with the rest of their seven resting this weekend.

Other Virginia boys to look out for individual as potential top 24 All-South finishers as well as point scorers for Virginia in the state team battle are AA state runner-up Adam Henken of Brentsville, Mountain View sophomore Thomas Porter, Robert E. Lee senior Josef Tessema, and Herndon senior Ermin Mujezinovic.

Henken gave Graves his toughest challenge in the AA race and took second with the fifth fastest time of the day in 16:13. Henken also beat Witt at Great American with a top ten finish and not far behind some of the Foot Locker South contending runners in the region.

Porter won the freshmen race last year in 15:47 and after a subpar season looks to be finishing strong after a third place run of 16:08 in the AAA state race behind Spooner and Witt. Porter will look to more importantly remain as the fastest runner in his class in the region on Saturday against the South region\'s other best sophomores. With Chapel Hill sophomore and North Carolina state champion Taylor Gilland resting for Nike Team Nationals, Porter\'s chances are definitely improved to do just that.

Tessema almost broke into the Burke Lake all-time list at the Northern Region Meet as he finished only six seconds behind Spooner in a swift time of 15:01. Tessema had to drop out of the state race though and was seen icing his legs afterwards, so is status is questionable, but he is entered in the meet.

Mujezinovic has great talent and great speed with a 4:13 1600 best, but has yet to have the big race this season to fully showcase his ability. His 5K personal best of 15:52 came at Foot Locker South last fall, so possibly he can pop another best this weekend.

FL South: Virginia Entrants