The boys of the Northeast Region are coming to San Diego and they're coming like a pack of sardines.
The ten boys who qualified for the Footlocker Cross Country Nationals on Saturday did so in a spread of just over 8 seconds, from 15:42 to 15:50.3.
Chad Noelle caught Morgan Pearson with less than 400 meters to go and then fought off his late surge to win in 15:42. Pearson, who led for much of the race, finished in 15:42.8.
"I looked over my shoulder and saw [Pearson] coming back again and kinda just put the last of what I had into it," Noelle said. "I really did not think I was gonna win at all. That was just a really awesome surprise for me."
A couple of seconds after Noelle and Pearson finished, a cascade of qualifiers burst across the line. The next six runners finished within 1.4 seconds of one another.
"Just being so close to first, but also being so close to tenth, it's like, anything could happen at Nationals," said New York State Federation champ Eddie Owens, who finished sixth in 15:46.
The times were much faster than the previous year's final, with the top eleven times this year besting last year's winner.
"Everybody was attacking the course," said Patrick Rono, who finished seventh in 15:46.6. "Everybody was sprinting in the beginning till about the first mile marker."
Officially, the leaders went through the first mile in 4:50 and the second mile, which is perched at the end of Cardiac Hill, in 10:15.
"We're gonna be good this year," Owens said. "Because this course - people around the country might not know it as well - but it is tough, and to have guys in the 1540s here, we should do very well at nationals."
All ten qualifiers are seniors and just one - John Murray, who finished fourth in 15:45.6 - is making a return trip.
The other qualifiers are New Hampshire state champ Jeff Lacoste (3rd, 15:45.3), Washington D.C.'s John McGowan (5th, 15:46.2), New Jersey's Patrick Rono (7th, 15:46.6), Pennsylvania's Chris Campbell (8th, 15:46.7) and Zach Hebda (9th, 15:47.9) and New Jersey's Matthew McDonald (10th, 15:50.8)