USATF XC Nationals (CA)
Mission Bay Park, San Diego, California
The high school cross country season may have ended months ago and the indoor track and field season may be running strong, but over a dozen of the best distance runners in the country will converge at Mission Bay Park in San Diego Saturday to compete in USATF XC Nationals. The top six junior men and junior women finishers automatically qualify for the team that will represent the United States at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships.
The boys side is loaded with prep talent. Foot Locker third place finisher German Fernandez (CA) (pictured right) is a heavy favorite to make the team. Not only is Fernandez running close to home, but he showed all fall that he is at another level when compared to many of the top junior runners nationally.
Five more '07-'08 Foot Locker qualifiers are entered in the field, including eighth place finisher Donn Cabral (CT), twenty-third place Jim Walmsley (AZ), twenty-sixth place Kevin Williams (CO), twenty-ninth place Brett Walters (CA) and thirty-third place finisher Griff Graves (VA). Graves is the top finisher from the event last year in Boulder, Colorado, where the Virginia star finished ninth overall.
Perhaps the strongest challenger to Fernandez as the top prep comes from Ben Johnson (NM) (pictured left). Johnson didn't participate this year at Foot Locker Nationals due to the conflict between Nike Team National Regionals and Foot Locker Regionals, but did lead his team to a third place finish at Nike Team Nationals, finishing third place individually as well, placing only behind Foot Locker National top four finishers Chris Derrick (IL) and Colby Lowe (TX). Johnson also placed sixth in 2006 at Foot Locker Nationals as a junior, and seems to handle longer distances better coming from the altitude of New Mexico, which should help since the Junior Men's race is 8,000m.
Despite such talent coming from the high school level, many college freshman have perhaps the best shot to make the team. Last year's junior race winner Elliot Heath (MN/Stanford) is entered in the field, while '07 third place finisher Matthew Tebo (NM/Colorado) brings his talents to San Diego as well. One more name to follow is Emil Heineking (OH/Virginia), who performed incredibly well during his freshman year at the University of Virginia, while Brian Long (KY/Villanova) is fresh off of a 14:37 5k two weeks ago in New York.
On the girls side, Jordan Hasay (CA) (pictured right) leads the way. She'll be the pre-race favorite and all eyes will be on her to see if she can match her fantastic 3k effort last weekend, where she ran 9:23.90 in a small race in California. Her time ranks her U.S #15 all-time in the event, while it also was her PR. Whatever injury she had during the fall and early winter is seemingly 100% now.
Three other girls who have a shot to qualify, and should be very familiar with the warm weather San Diego promises are Foot Locker National tenth place Kauren Tarver (CA), sixteenth place Laurynne Chetelat (CA) and twenty-fifth place Emilie Amaro (FL). All three girls are experienced and should put for one of the team spots. Emily Reese (GA) is another star runner to keep an eye on as well. The recently signed Harvard recruit has shown for the past few years she can run with nearly any young woman in the nation.
The focus may be on indoor track and field currently, but the talent out west at USATF XC Nationals will certainly make it one of the headlining events this weekend.
**MileSplit will be bringing you coverage of the event Saturday.