Reputation is on the line this weekend for Virginia as well as the entire Southeast region that top ranked boys teams from Virginia represent in this weekend's Manhattan Invitational. The Southeast boys were exposed at Maymont two weeks ago when an unranked team from the Midwest in Medina of Ohio walked into Richmond and defeated the top teams in the Southeast and Virginia. With the top four ranked teams in Virginia headed to Van Cortland Park this weekend, an opportunity of redemption is there with Oakton, Midlothian, Brentsville, and Thomas Jefferson all racing at Vanny. Meanwhile, as all the buzz is circulating around New Jersey's top two runners in Doug Smith and Brandon Jarrett going head-to-head in the Varsity A race, Virginians know full well that the Northeast experts will be quite surprised with the times that Peter Dorrell and Jason Witt can put up in separate races later in the day.
While all the pre-meet buzz nationally is focused on the pending battle between New Jersey's top two harriers in Doug Smith and Brandon Jarrett in the varsity A division at 1:16 PM. Media journalists might want to hold out until Virginia's top two ranked runners in Peter Dorrell of Blacksburg and Jason Witt of Midlothian finish their respective races later in the day before tracking down the fastest runner of the meet. While Smith and Jarrett both deserve their attention as two national caliber runners facing off in a rare head-to-head clash in a meet which usually does a pretty good job at spreading out the talent among the many race divisions on the day, very little mention is being given to stellar runners in Dorrell and Witt who are very capable of cooking a fast time on Van Cortland Park's 2.5 mile course in the heart of Manhattan.
Dorrell and Witt broke away from a national caliber field at Maymont two weeks ago with Dorrell coming out as a four second winner at 15:31. Witt followed in at second to match the old course record of 15:35 set by 2006 Foot Locker finalist Mike Spooner. The Maymont field included Foot Locker finalist Griff Graves, who made up for his off race at Maymont with a strong 15:09 rebound performance at the Wendy's Invite last Saturday over defending Foot Locker South champion Ryan Hill.
Witt's race goes off at 1:51 PM on Saturday in the varsity D divison, while Dorrell will get to see what kind of time Witt puts up before toeing the line at 2:15 PM. Conditions should be ripe for fast times with dry conditions and temperatures rising just above 60 degrees for the afternoon races. Dorrell and Witt may not have an equal adversary as the New Jersey boys will have in each other in the earlier A division, but some quality runners nonetheless in the D and F divisions will press Virginia's top two ranked runners to push it out on the shorter 2.5 mile course. Dorrell with 1:54 800 and 4:15 1600 meter bests, may be better suited than Witt to drop down in distance.
The real story for the Virginian boys is the teams though as this could be the best contingent of teams being sent to represent the Commonwealth in the history of the country's largest high school invitational at Manhattan.
Virginia's #1 ranked team in Oakton goes first at 1:27 PM in the varsity B division and without a question, have the toughest challenge among all four ranked Virginia teams in facing off with DyeStat.com's #1 Northeast ranked squad and more importantly the #1 ranked team in the country according to Marc Bloom's Super Harrier 25 in Danbury of Connecticut. Danbury competed at Nike Team Nationals last year and returned virtually a full lineup back. A win by the Oakton boys would certainly gain respect back for the Southeast region as Oakton had been ranked in the top 10 in the nation by Bloom prior to Maymont, but were bumped to #25 in the latest rankings update.
Oakton clearly did not bring their "A" game to Maymont and their previous two invitational performances were more indicative of the type of the team they are capable of being. If the pack can stay tight as it did in their Lake Forest Invite win with only a 12 second spread among their top five behind ace Joe Lorusso (16:01 5K best), an upset could be in the brewing. If the Cougars can at least make Danbury sweat out a win in the B division, they will have regained their respect nationally as well as for the Southeast region as the #1 ranked team.
Two years ago at Manhattan, the Midlothian boys were young and a longer distance geared coming into the meet. The 2007 group is a bit more speed oriented as two of their top three runners will welcome the shorter distance with #2 Michael Hammond, a 4:16 miler, and #3 Brayden Burleigh, a freshmen who broke 4:40 in the mile as an eight grader. With Witt gunning for the win and possible top ten finishers in Hammond and Burleigh, both ranked individuals in AAA currently, Midlothian will be in good position to pick up a win in Manhattan. Their next two will need to step up though as freshmen Darren Barrlow has definitely filled in nicely in the fourth spot as he broke 17 minutes at Maymont, but their fifth spot still remains an area of concern for Coach Morgan.
Their top competition as a team will be Pennyslvania's North Penn, a squad well known for producing great 4x800 meter relays, but also has the fourth best team in the Northeast according to DyeStat.com. North Penn has six runners at 16:40 or better for 5K this fall with a 54 second spread for their top five. Midlothian has one of the worst top five spreads among the best teams in the state at 1:46.
Quince Orchard of Maryland is glad they are not in the varsity E boys race at 2:03 PM with two teams that handed the former DyeStat.com SE #2 ranked team back to back losses at Paul Short and Octoberfest with Pennsylvania's Germantown Friends and Virginia's own Brentsville. Brentsville has been the pleasant surprise as of late as they earlier on in the season were projected to finish third in their AA classification behind Jamestown and Western Albemarle, but now find themselves gaining ground on AAA's top two in Oakton and Midlothian. Coach Rob Dulin's squad has gained respect in the region as well as they moved up to #4 in the latest DyeStat.com Southeast rankings. Germantown Friends will a tough team for Brentsville to take down as they come in ranked #3 in the Northeast.
Germantown Friends has four runners 16:10 or faster for 5K led by Max Kalbauch at 15:27. Brentsville may not be strong up front even though Ray Delgado has ran exceptional as of late including a 15:57 PR fifth place run at Octoberfest, but their pack proved to be their strength against Quince Orchard with only a 35 second spread among their top five last Saturday at Great Meadow to win by 25 points. Germantown Friends had a spread of 1:31 when they defeated Quince Orchard by 32 at Paul Short as a strong front runner in Kaulbauch obviously makes it a tougher task to keep a tighter pack.
Photo by Ted Plunkett
Finally a comparision can be made with the Thomas Jefferson boys and the other top teams in the state of Virginia. While they will not be going head-to-head with either VA #1 Oakton, #2 Midlothian, or #3 Brentsville, Coach Matt Ryan's #4 ranked squad in Virginia will at least be able to matchup times racing on the same day and same course with the others at Manhattan. Led by 9:23 two miler Brian Landry, Thomas Jefferson will be racing in the varsity C division at 1:39 PM with New York's top ranked team in Queensbury. Thomas Jefferson won the large Oatlands Invitational two weeks ago and bring in a squad this weekend primed to continue Coach Ryan's streak of AAA state podium teams.