Saturday afternoon (at least here on the East Coast) we will have the largest group of VA athletes ever competing at NXN at one time. This record number includes three individuals and three teams all competing for All-American honors this weekend in Portland at Nike Cross Nationals.
The first race will be the girls' race starting just after 1:00pm on the East Coast. In this race we will have nine competitors competing. These will include the Loudoun Valley girls who won the Southeast regionals and Kaitlynn Wolfe of Blacksburg who was the fifth finisher outside of the scoring individuals to earn herself a trip out to Portland. Also joining them will be Kelsey Harrington who received an at-large invitation.
Out of these girls are quite a few big names. Aside from the two aforementioned individuals you also have Ava Gordon and Ricky Fetterolf on Valley's team and both are state cross country champions. That means they not only want to help the team but run to an All-American finish as well.
These four girls enter this race having very different seasons. Wolfe for example has been battling back from injuries and just recently has really shown great signs of being back in tip top shape. Fetterolf has run well all year and her younger teammate Gordon has been in beast mode these past few weeks.
It will be nice seeing these three stars from Class 4 get to battle one more time in XC.
Harrington on the other hand has had one of the greatest seasons in VA history. She has run eight races this season under 18 minutes and owns the first, third, sixth, seventh, and eighth fastest time run this season for 5K. She is also the state leader for the 3 Mile distance as well.
All of these girls have another thing in common aside from running their best late in the season, they are hill runners. These girls thrive on the hills and that means we could definitely see multiple All-Americans if they run as well as they have this past month.
The second race of the day will be the boys race where Loudoun Valley will seek their third consecutive national title. They are the only boys team to ever win back-to-back and this year they want to make it three.
Entering the meet they are seeded third, we can't spin it any other way, and they are the third best team on paper. That all might be true but what is also true is the fact this team knows how to win and unlike any other team in the title hunt, they have been singularly focused on this one race all year.
Other teams have had to fight to prove themselves while Valley has not faced any pressure all year including Nike regionals and states as well.
The two favorites of the race are Newbury Park and Great Oak, both from California and have had to prove themselves all year. They enter the meet with lengthy resumes and experience at this meet. Great Oak also handed Loudoun Valley their first team loss in over three years at Great American in early October too.
All of that doesn't matter though. When you look at the rankings, head-to-head matchups, and speed ratings there is always something that is missed. That is the fact that Loudoun Valley has been running from the front all year.
What we mean by this is that even though GO and NP lead on paper, they are chasing Valley... in fact everyone is chasing Valley and that fact could be the difference maker this weekend.
Think of it this way. Having to prove your greatness week after week is not easy. It means you have to peak multiple times and have many great outings. Great Oak and Newbury Park have definitely done that and have shown to be formidable opponents who are both built to score well at NXN.
Another big thing that all the stats and rankings don't fully equate is that these other teams are racing on ridiculously fast courses... some even road races... and that skews everything in a big way. This race is a lot closer than the rankings hint at.
When it all comes down to it, this is what the race will come down to... Carlos Shultz must finish ahead of NP's number two guy and all of Great Oak and Valley needs to have the first number five runner. Everyone else in their needs to run well but those two things are of the upmost importance.
Aside from the Valley boys running for All-American finishes and the title we also have Western Albemarle led by national stars Jack Eliason and Joe Hawkes who both in their own rights could make the All-American list.
These Warriors from Crozet are making their first trip out to Portland but won't be there to just enjoy the show, they are there to fight and run well. They train all year for a race like this on the hills and we truly think they will put together one of the best finishes the Southeast has had in quite some time.
Last but not least we will also have an at-large individual competing this weekend, Sean Stuck. He was the Class 6 state champion and ran near perfectly to win that race. What separated him from many athletes in VA though was his run at NXR-SE where he finished second overall.
That 15:02 clocking by Stuck moved him up to third in the state for 5K and joins his state lead for the three mile distance.
This race is not the same like NXR-SE so we don't expect a super fast time but the real takeaway from Stuck's previous two races was how he competed. This could spell a great finish and perhaps an All-American finish as well if he comes to race Saturday.