Strong surge over the final kilometer clinches National Championship for North Central
PORTLAND, Ore. – Stunned. Shocked. Surprised. Elated.
Take your pick, when it comes to labeling the feelings of the North Spokane XC Club, they are all appropriate descriptors.
When you begin the season as the top team in the country, rip through the opposition week after week, unfazed and unmatched, arriving at the season-ending championship as the team to beat - winning should evoke joy, but definitely should not come as a surprise.
But the latter was exactly the case for North Spokane XC Club (Pictured right in Tim Fulton photo) as they stood to hear the results of the Nike Cross Nationals at Portland Meadows.
Heck, before revealing the top two finishers, even the announcer did a double take, not so much questioning the validity of the results, but like most in attendance, probably out of incredulous disbelief of the astounding comeback staged over the final kilometer by the nation’s top ranked squad.
So yeah, sure, the North Central contingent was caught off guard when five-time NXN Finals qualifier Elmhurst (York) was announced as the runner-up, crowing the workmanlike team from the state of Washington as champions.
In a surprise development, at least based on the information available during the race, Mile Split US # 1 North Central held on to its lofty standing, winning the boys team championship.
Lost in the fountain of tears shed by the emotional victors, must have been the incredible disappointed that overtook the York contingent. After all, the during a webcast interview they were all but anointed champions.
A strong late surge fueled the victory for North Central that moments before the announcements was thought to have slipped from their grasp.
“I thought we were in seventh,” North Central coach Jon Knight said. “I was over there kicking myself that I detrained them, that I had screwed up, everything else. Then somebody comes over and says ‘Hey I think we are fourth.’ I come over here to the awards and I’m thinking, ‘Okay fourth, that’s better than seventh.’”
But certainly nowhere nearly as satisfying as first.
Just ask Reed Connor, who emerged from a pack of four that included Heartland and Foot Locker Midwest Champion Jakub Zivec, Bismarck’s Joash Osoro and NJ soph Joe Rosa, winning the individual title in a course record time of 15:13. Zivec was second in 15:18, followed by Osoro (15:18), who fell over the line just ahead of Rosa (15:19).
Connor, The Woodlands, and Rosa, West Windsor Plainsboro-North, paced their respective teams to top-five finishes as six of the final top 10 were runners from teams vying for a title. But, the additional 45 individuals added to this year’s race made an impact. The pace was quick from the start, before Connor took charge and order was restored.
“We talked a lot about how all those individuals out front would mess it up and you wouldn't be able to tell where you were and you had to keep fighting because you wouldn’t know,” Knight said. “They must have. I still think I am going to wake up, like this is a dream.”
The race was broadcast live via a large video screen on the infield, and thanks to the technological progressions in the sport, coaches, spectators and the even the runners themselves were kept abreast of the team standings at every kilometer.
North Central appeared poised to back up all the hype, leading through 2k. But by the 3k mark, York (Elmhurst) had assumed control, with the favorite slipping to fifth. According to the chip timing system, with a thousand meters to go, York held a lead over Illinois rival Naperville North with West Windsor Plainsboro-North (NJ), The Woodlands (TX) and Cedar Park (TX) rounding out the top five. North Central was nowhere to be found.
It appeared York was on the way to its second championship in the five-year history of the event.
Not so fast.
By the time they got to the line, it was North Central prevailing with 134 points followed by Elmhurst XC Club (York), 151, Napervillle XC Club (Naperville North), 195, The Woodlands XC Club, 197 and Plainsboro XC Club (216) to round out the top five.
(Team standings through 3K, pictured right)
“I think everybody just pretty much dug in,” said Andrew Kimpel, North Central’s top runner, who finished 10th in 15:32. “ I passed three and from what I heard a lot of our guys passed a lot of people. Alex [Avila], our fifth man, passed about 20 guys. It definitely made the difference. I think we were fifth or sixth around 4k. That gave us a good wakeup call to get going.”
It was the kind of effort we have gotten used to seeing out of North Central this season. Kimpel led the way, and the pack behind him was interchangeable with Leon Dean, Jeff Howard and Ben Johnston finishing within four seconds of each other. Though, the true hero on this day might have been Avila, who went by runners over the final quarter mile like an emergency vehicle racing through traffic to an accident.
“I knew everybody ahead of me was working their butt off,” Avila said. “I knew they weren’t letting [the deficit] get to them, and I wasn’t going to let it get to me either. This is Nationals, the last race. I had to give it everything.”
We’re not surprised.
Photos by Timothy Fulton, ArmoryTrack.com and Fran McLaughlin, MileSplit.us