Foot Locker Nationals Predictions by Brandon Miles - Top 15 Boys

My prediction for this weekend's Foot Locker Nationals is that the weather will play a role in how runners from different geographic regions of the country will fair at Balboa Park with rain (80% chance on Friday, 40% chance on Saturday) and cooler temperatures expected for this weekend. It is not exclusive to stereotyping regions as a whole as some regions have runners who will be familiar to the elements that they will be racing in on Saturday. The state of Texas is certainly use to drier and warmer conditions, but the Southlake Carroll TX pair of Colby Lowe and CJ Brown has two NTN race experiences in the mud, cold, rain, and snow of Portland, Oregon to make them very prepared to race well on Saturday.

The Midwest and Northeast boys look to be best prepared as whole squads for any effects of the weather might have on the national course at Balboa Park as rain and temperatures in the 50s will feel like a warm shower for them.

By breaking 15 minutes in his Midwest Regional victory in Kenosha, Mike Fout joined pretty good company. A group of runners who more than often end up as Foot Locker Nationals champions, which has been the case in recent years with the likes of Dathan Ritzenhein, Chris Solinsky, and Matthew Witherow. Solinsky and Witherow would have enjoyed being able to run in Saturday's forecasted weather than the typically warm Southern Cal that they ran through onto their national titles.

Top 15 Foot Locker Nationals Boys Picks


1. Mike Fout (12) IN - Winning the Midwest Regional requires a strong runner. Breaking 15 minutes on the home course of the Midwest Regional in Kenosha, Wisconsin requires a tough runner. Fout scored somewhat of an upset at the regional in defeating neighbor state star Chris Derrick, but Fout's performance was no fluke to those who have watched him compete in Indiana this fall. In recent Foot Locker history, four of the last five Midwest Regional champions to break 15 minutes in the regional race went onto win the Foot Locker Nationals two weeks later. The not so sunny San Diego conditions should only play more into the hands of the Midwest champion as those past sub 15:00 Parkside champions were still able to pull out the wins in warmer conditions down in Orlando and San Diego for Nationals.

Dathan Ritzenhein 1999 - 14:55 > FLN Champion
Dathan Ritzenheiser 2000 - 14:35 > FLN Champion
Chris Solinsky 2002 - 14:49 > FLN Champion
Matthew Witherow 2003 - 14:54 > FLN Champion
Mohamud Ige 2005 - 14:58


2. Chris Derrick (12) IL  - The Midwest Regional runner-up to Fout in Chris Derrick from Neuqua Valley IL cannot be counted out though as he will have no problem running in rain or mud after winning the individual title at Nike Team Nationals this past Saturday in Portland, Oregon. Derrick powered his way through the mud and broke away from the Foot Locker South regional champion Colby Lowe in the final half mile for a three second victory. The question will be how will he handle this long stretch of high intensity races at season's end. Many of the runners last year who doubled from NTN to Foot Locker Nationals handled the back-to-back national championship races well as the 2006 NTN individual winner Stephen Murdock of New York nearly stole the race in the last mile at Balboa Park.

Photo by Don Rich

3. Don Cabral (12) CT - Cabral should have an excellent shot to become the first Northeast champion since two-time winner Abdirizak Mohamud of Boston MA won back-to-back Foot Locker titles in 1996 and 1997. A win by Cabral would snap a long 10 year drought for the Northeast boys. The cooler temperatures and rain should be  appealing to the Glastonbury High School senior and his Northeast Region team members. With Cabral breaking the Northeast Regional course record at Van Cortland Park, which Mohamud did not even possess and was set back in 1982, provides plenty of optimism for the Northeast fans that someone other than a Midwest or West Region runner will be crowned champion at Balboa on Saturday. 

Photo by Scott Bush

4. German Fernandez (12) CA - Fernandez ran faster than the past two Foot Locker Nationals champions in Chad Hall and AJ Acosta on the California State Meet course as well as breaking the long standing course record held by 1986 Foot Locker Nationals champion Marc Davis. How can he not follow in their footsteps with a national title of his own? Well neither of those three California champions had to run on a wet and sloppy Balboa Park course on their way to first place finishes. The home crowd will definitely be rooting for Fernandez though as he looked every bit like a champion at the West Regional pulling away from one of the country's top returning runners in Luke Puskedra of Utah in the final 600 meters for 15 second win.

Photo by John Herzog

5. Colby Lowe (12) TX - Lowe is the top returnee from last year's Foot Locker finals with a 10th place showing in 2006 at Balboa Park. After a strong fight with Derrick last weekend in Oregon at Nike Team Nationals, Lowe is ready to contend for a top five finish or higher. The three-time finalist from Southlake Carroll in Texas did the double from Portland to San Diego last year without any problems with his best race coming at Foot Locker Nationals. His race approaches have been much more aggressive than last year as he set the pace and led virtually start to finish for a 14:45 South Regional win and also led Derrick for the majority of the race at Portland Meadows before the Midwest regional runner-up made his move for a three second win. It will be interesting to see if Lowe holds back a bit and lets someone else do the leading up front earlier on.

Photo by Scott Bush

6. Luke Puskedra (12) UT - Lowe might not have to worry too much about finding a replacement to keep it an honest pace early on with Utah star Luke Puskedra. Puskedra had a big role in that magical two mile race at Nike Outdoor Nationals last June in Greensboro, North Carolina with a scorching first mile to set Matt Centrowitz up to move high up on the US all-time list. Puskedra does not seem to be changing his racing style anytime soon, so expect the West Regional runner-up to be pressing the pace with the lead pack and try to hold on for a top five finish.

Photo by Scott Bush

7. Rob Finnerty (12) MN - The Midwest has a strong group of runners behind their top two in Fout and Derrick to make them a favorite to win the team title as Minnesota's best in Finnerty is part of that group of several potential All-Americans from the region. The sub 9 two miler was fourth in the regional race and the rain with temperatures in the low 50's will feel like a warm shower for the Minnesota state champion. After nearly earning a trip to Foot Locker Nationals as a freshmen with a 11th place finish at the Midwest Regional and then failing to qualify the next two years as a sophomore and junior despite his early promise, Finnery will not be taking for granted his lone and only opportunity to tear it up at Balboa Park.

Photo by Scott Bush

8. Maverick Darling (12) MI - His name alone sounds like an All-American athlete. The three-time Michigan state champion from Ovid-Elsie High School looks to represent his homestate well with an All-American showing after Michigan failed to send a qualifier last year to San Diego.

Photo by Scott Bush

9. Miles Unterreiner (12) WA - Washington high school cross country races and rain are synonymous with one another. Thus, Washington state champion and WA-OR Border Clash winner Miles Unterreiner should be unphased with this weekend's conditions. He finished fifth at the West Regional, so a top ten finish would be a jump for him based on his regional race alone, but the Golden West mile champion is very capable of finishing in the top tier of the field. 

Photo by Don Rich

10. Mark Dennin (12) PA - The Northeast regional runner-up Dennin leads a posse of Pennsylvania boys into San Diego with plenty of promise among the trio of having at least an individual or two earn All-American honors similar to the performance by the Keystone State girls last year in San Diego with Neely Spence and Carly Seymour. Dennin has suddenly become the leader of the PA boys as his two fellow statesmen are more well known nationally as Chris Aldrich anchored Henderson High to a national title last March at Nike Indoor Nationals in the DMR, while Vince McNally is one of the country's top returning milers after running 4:07 for 1600 meters last spring.

Photo by

11. Brian Leung (12) NJ - At the season's beginning, Brian Leung would not have been expected to be likely the top runner for the state of New Jersey at Foot Locker Nationals with a returning finalist and Foot Locker All-American in Brandon Jarrett and another talent in Doug Smith. All the attention was focused on the two in a head-to-head matchup at Manhattan Invite, but it was Leung who stole the show in a later race division posting the days fastest under 12:20 on the 2.5 mile course at Vanny. Leung might not be ready to run with the top pack, but looks able to slip in the top ten.

Photo by John Herzog

12. Jason Witt (12) VA - Last December, Jason Witt was muddin' out in Portland, Oregon with his Midlothian team at Nike Team Nationals. Despite being taken down in the huge fall taking out quite a few runners and teams in the first quarter mile of the race, Witt was able to get back up and work his way through the mud to an outstanding seventh place. He hopes to recall back on that experience last December this weekend and stay on his feet in Balboa as he tries to work his way up to be the first Virginian male to earn All-American honors since 2002 at Foot Locker Nationals. His 15:10 win at Virginia State Meet was third fastest all-time behind Alan Webb and Bobby Lockhart.

Photo by Brandon Miles

13. CJ Brown (11) TX - When NTN was first created and those saw the possibility of Foot Locker finalists on NTN teams having to double back as well as make long travels across the country as a disadvantage. However, the weekend weather reports for San Diego appear to give an advantage to those who raced out in Portland last weekend with the potential for rough footing and cooler temperatures in the rain. CJ Brown is one of those handful of individuals who doubles back from Portland Meadows along with his Southlake Carroll TX teammate Colby Lowe. The junior finished third at the South Regional behind two regional champions in 2007 winner in teammate Lowe and 2006 winner in Ryan Hill of North Carolina.

Photo by Scott Bush

14. Kevin Havel (12) IL - Havel was expected to qualify last year, but failed to in a Midwest Regional that saw many favorites not make the cut into the top 10. He is finally made his way to San Diego as a senior and the strong distance running state of Illinois potentially could have two All-Americans in Derrick and Havel at Foot Locker Nationals.

Photo by Ted Plunkett

15. Griff Graves (12) VA - It has been an up and down year for Graves as he has beaten some great runners as well as taken some pretty good beatings himself in off days. Graves scored a win over Havel in a September Invite then defeated 2006 South Regional champion in October. The returning finalist is not a speedster, but more of a grinder, so the course conditions might be more suitable for Graves to put together the race that he has been looking for as of late.


Boys Team Predictions 

1. Midwest - Fout and Derrick leading the way as individual contenders with Finnery and Darling capable of pulling in top ten showings will be tough to beat if they have a solid fifth closing out the deal.

2. Northeast - A second runner-up finish in a row for the Northeast boys? The region that is usually sharing the bottom half with the South each year will be loving the weather this weekend, which will make them feel more like at home.

3. South - This weekend's weather would appear to hinder regions like the South and West coming from areas of the country with more mild and dry weather, but this team has three proven mudders in their lineup with the Lowe, Brown, and Witt. 

4. West - This would be a quick and dramatic fall for last year's region team champions, but this is a new team without a single runner back from the 2006 champion squad. Fernandez will help up front as a possible individual champion, but others will have to start making national star names of themselves on Saturday.