The holiday weekend would not be complete without the annual running of the Foot Locker South Regional. Here many athletes from across the South will compete for just 10 spots to the Foot Locker Nationals Championships out in San Diego.
Top make the national final athletes must finish inside the top 10 in the championship race and that means around 15:12 or faster for the boys and 17:25 or faster for the girls. Those times get you right in the wheelhouse of making the national team almost every year since 2015.
Those cutoffs give us seven boys and five girls who are close enough and able to hit those marks this weekend.
Being able to run that fast is not the only requirement though. This is a race for position and usually this is the only race these elite athletes have all year that they have actually competition around them. That makes for an interesting race where athletes have to do a lot more than just run their own race.
The biggest key though is counting correctly and making sure you are inside the top ten as you round the lake that last time and head home to the finish line.
Leading the boys' competition is Dan O'Brien who finished 3rd a year ago at regionals and 12th at Nationals. This year he is markedly in better shape and hungrier than ever for a top finish at regionals and nationals too.
His biggest concern will be that first mile, which will be faster than usual, to make sure he gets clear of the crazy front pack before the field climbs and sprints down that hill. That is a dangerous spot just after the Mile that we have seen some of the leaders go down before.
After that it is all racing and making sure you're moving at the right time.
Joining Dan in the search for a bid to nationals is Bryce Lentz, Jacob Plummer, Colby Burcham, Albert Velikonja, Austin Hayden, and Miles Mullins. All of these guys can run under 15:10 in the race conditions Saturday but the question is whether they will be able to run that fast at the start and still hold on for such a fast time.
The girls race may not have as many athletes with a strong shot of making nationals as the boys do but here we have three girls who could win the race and all five girls could finish inside the top five.
Leading the way for Team VA is Kelsey Harrington or Virginia High and Bethany Graham of John Champe who both won their first state XC titles this past weekend. They are also looking to make their first Foot Locker team as well.
Despite not having a ton of experience against great competition in XC, these two athletes have shown us week after week that they are the real deal and ready to compete Thanksgiving weekend. Both of these girls not only are trying to make the team but win the race as well.
Behind them, but also fighting for a top five finish is Aniya Mosley, Mary Caroline Heinen, and Ellie Desmond who all have run phenomenally all season. These three girls have had good and great races and if they race great this weekend there is no doubt they will be getting on that plane to San Diego.