The Nike Cross Nationals (NXN) brings together the best teams in the country and pits them against each other on the most unique course available. Portland Meadows will once again play host to the championship battle and the manufactured course that traverses the interior of a horse racing track will have all the traditional features of European style cross country racing; including plenty of mud.
The road to the NXN podium is not easy, especially for those in California and New York. Many have spent the last month running all-out each weekend just for the right to compete in their state championship. The path to a state title is fraught with grueling courses and fierce competition, but a berth in the Nike Cross Nationals usually requires a top four finish after all the five divisions have been combined in a ‘Power Merge’.
California and New York are the only two states with their own qualifying region (mainly because the population density causes added depth), but the rest of the country experiences a similar challenge en route to Portland. The only difference being the proximity and timing of their regional qualifier. But having to travel out of their home state to compete in a regional championship may pay dividends for several teams, as athletes and coaches have had at least one opportunity to fine tune the nuances of hitting the road with a squad full of high school athletes.
The Midwest, Northwest and Heartland regional qualifying races took place back on the weekend of November 12th and those teams will have the added advantage of two rest weeks between major races. But, any perceived advantage may be negated by wear and tear of the condensed schedule needed to host the regional qualifier two weeks earlier. In addition, some programs have found it difficult to extend their peak cycles to cover the added timeframe. But these three regions have had a good track record at NXN and extending the season to the first week in December has become a much more manageable undertaking in recent years.
The Southwest, South, Northeast and Southeast championships took place over the past two weekends, and although many of the top ranked teams advanced unscathed, some pleasant surprises emerged as athletes begin to round into post season form. Several teams had athletes run the race of their lives to upset former champions, but can lightning strike twice for these groups? Some would argue that momentum is on their side.
Below is a brief look at each region and what it took to qualify.
North Spokane (95) and Gig Harbor (108) punched their ticket to Portland by going 1-2 in the Northwest Regional. North Spokane, comprised of runners from North Central High School, brings up their talent from a pool of strong underclassmen. Sophomore Kai Wilmot led the charge with a 8th place finish in 15:57.8. Keith Williams, one of three juniors, finished in 13th. North Spokane finished sixth last year at NXN and returns their top five in 2011. Gig Harbor is also joining the youth movement in Washington with two sophomores and a freshman making up their top three runners on the team.
Anthony Armstrong (photo left by Leo Collins) of Kamiakan High School in Washington won the WIAA State Championship in 14:58.00. Any time you go under 15:00, no matter where the course is, it's impressive. At Nike Northwest, Armstrong edged out fellow Washingtonian runner Izaic Yorks' 15:39.8 with a 15:36.9 of his own. Yorks finished third at the WIAA State Championships. Farnsworth won the Idaho 5A State Championship and came in third at Nike Northwest. He may surprise people in Portland who have him in the 20th-30th rank.
Columbus North, IN - Top team from the Midwest (Photo by Paul Everett).
Columbus North of Indiana (Columbus Thorn) (109) rolled over the competition at Nike Midwest, winning by 45 points over York from Illinois (Kroy Track Club) (154). Columbus North has depth and experience, led by a trio of juniors: Christopher Kelsey, Michael Sublette, and Andrew Diehn. Columbus North is coming off their third consecutive Indiana state title. They finished third at NXN last year and look to be a top contender in 2011. York is coached by legend Joe Newton. Junior Scott Milling is York's top runner, finishing 22nd at Laverne Gibson in a time of 16:21.80.
The crop of this class is North Central senior Futsum Zeinaselassie (photo left by Paul Everett) , who won the individual title and is the odds on favorite this weekend in Portland. Zeinaselassie is a three-time Indiana state champion and was runner-up at Foot Locker Nationals last year in San Diego. He finished first at the regional in 15:42.80. Other standouts include Illinois 2A state champion Michael Clevenger, who finished as the regional runner-up, and Malachy Schrobilgen, who placed third at the Illinois 3A state meet. Those two also have a good chance of finishing in the top ten to fifteen.
Stillwater - Top team from Heartland (Photo by David Eickhoff)
It was a shootout in America's Heartland between Stillwater from Minnesota (96) and Hartland Hustle from Wisconsin (104). Stillwater won the battle with a strong 1-5 spread of just 41 seconds. Wayde Hall, Tom Linner, and Eric Colvin of Stillwater fame, all finished inside the top twenty. Hartland Hustle, made up of runners from Arrowhead High School, was led by Russ Sandvold's third place finish in a time of 15:31.65.
Rapid City Central senior Tony Smoragiewicz won the Heartland Regional for the second consecutive year. Smoragiewicz, who also competes in triathlons, was hoping to break the course record he set a year ago, but came up three seconds short in a time of 15:19.55. He is the highest returning runner, having finished 9th a year ago. Jake Leingang of neighboring North Dakota finished second in 15:26.58. Leingang is a two time class 1A champion. Both him and Smoragiewicz are ranked in the top five MileSplit national rankings and are predicted to finish in the top five at NXN.
American Fork - Top team from SW (Photo by Margot Kelly)
American Fork (45) and Davis (76) battled it out for the 5A Utah team title back in October. MacKenzie Morrison of American Fork took home the individual title, and paced his teammates to three more spots inside the top seven. American Fork edged out Davis in a low scoring contest 25 to 35 at 5A. The two teams were on display in Arizona at Nike Southwest, and the same finishing order came about. This time, it was senior Clayton Young and junior Brayden McClelland in third and fourth that gave American Fork a 31-point-win over Davis. Davis was led by senior Brad Nye who finished sixth in 15:25.47. Both teams ran an impressive 1-5 split of just 35 seconds and are expected to finish in the top ten.
New Mexico state champion Luis Martinez took home individual honors, cruising to a time of 15:08.80. Danny Carney of Colorado was second in 15:12.71, followed by a barrage of runners from American Fork and Davis.
Southlake Carroll - Top team from South (Photo by Alex Aldaco)
Southlake Carroll (26) didn't just win, they dominated. The boys from Texas placed all five runners in the top nine spots. Joe Sansone finished as the runner-up in 15:35.40. Trevor Gilley, Jordan Chavez, and Alex Johansson went 4-5-6, all crossing the line in under 16:00 with a team average of 15:55. The Woodlands (120) was a distant second 65 points back. Another great example of pack running, they had a 1-5 split of just 39 seconds! Brigham Hedges was their top scorer in tenth with a time of 16:08.95.
The Lonestar State is loaded with talent. On the individual side, it starts with San Antonio Reagan junior Daniel Vertiz. Vertiz is a three-time All-State selection and the Texas XC Championship runner-up. The Nike South champion beat runner-up Kevyn Hoyos by nearly seven seconds. The junior also finished third at Foot Locker South and plans to run in San Diego the week after NXN. He is running for himself in this race, and will be in the lead pack both in Portland and at Foot Locker Nationals.
Belen Jesuit (88) came to Cary, North Carolina for Nike Southeast Regional, fresh off a dominating performance at the FHSAA Cross Country State Finals, winning the 3A championship. This time the squad donned a new name and some new team colors. Due to FHSAA rules, Belen ran under the name Miami Magis, and rocked bright orange uniforms. I've always thought if you wear uniforms that are going to stick out your performance better as well and that is exactly what Frankie Ruiz's team did, beating out Brentwood XC Club of Tennessee (140) by 52 points! Brentwood was led by senior Nathan Thomas's 13th place finish in a time of 15:39.00.
Elliot Clemente dominated the WakeMed course in the second fastest time ever of 14:58.50, which was also a personal best for the Belen Jesuit senior. Clemente, coming off a 3A State Championship, was 11 seconds faster than runner-up Adam Visokay of Virginia. Clemente opened up some eyes in North Carolina for those who didn't know of him, and I expect him to do the same in Portland. Sam Roberson of Raleigh, North Carolina finished third in a personal best time of 15:14.90.
Christian Brothers Academy - Top team from the Northeast (Photo by Kyle Brazeil)
Christian Brothers Academy ran what its runners and coach called their finest meet of the season en route to a dominating 38-117 win over Pembroke High School's (Ma.) Titans Track Club. The Brothers packed all five into the race's top 20. George Kelly (5th, 16:15.5), Jack Boyle (6th, 16:19.2) and Tim Gorman (16:23.2) all notched top-ten performances in route to the team's 38 points. It was Gorman's first race in two weeks after he sat out at last week's New Jersey Meet of Champions. Pembroke, which has only been open for eight years, had strong performances from senior Wesley Gallaher, who finished in second (16:14.60), and with sophomore Christian Stafford in ninth (16:28.30)
Jack Leahy of New Jersey took home the top spot in 16:08.90. Also advancing were Tyler Gibbons of New Jersey, Massachusetts state champion Wesley Gallagher, and Rhode Island State Champion Mike Marsella. Marsella also won the New England Championships. All four finished in front of CBA's George Kelly and Jack Boyle.
Nike New York
Shaker - Top team from New York
The comeback story of NY belongs to Shaker (78), who earns the regional win and a spot in the national meet due in large part to runner-up Mike Libruck (16:03.80) and teammate Christian Delago, who finished tenth (16:23.30). Starting the 2011 season, Shaker was ranked amongst the top 5 teams in the nation. That all changed when Delago, arguably New York’s fastest returner, had to bow out of early season races due to injury. Delago steadily nursed his injuries back to health, racing some JV meets to get the meet requirement in. They have been steadily improving ever since, and the 2010 state champions ran a race deserved of their reputation. They ran a team average of 16:39 and will be a middle of the road team at NXN. The surprise story here is FM (93). Normally a dominating force, they have had some off races as of late. Junior Nick Ryan was the only runner in the field to break 16 minutes, winning overall, but his teammates had faded early in the race. They secured a spot over 3rd place Rush Henrietta-Sperry with a strong second half kick. This will be the second trip in two years for Fayetteville-Manilus, who finished as runner-up in 2010 to Arcadia.
Dan Galford of Monsignor Farrell was no stranger to the course after coming in second at the Federation champs a week prior. He took third overall, and first individual qualifier, for his efforts. His New York City companion, Thomas Awad, also makes the cut after coming in 5th individually. Other qualifiers include Ryan Manahan (Marcellus), Cooper Roach (Honeoye Falls-Lima), and MJ Erb (Victor), who has had both good races (States), and bad races (Feds).
California Auto Qualifier
Arcadia (220) returns to Portland to defend their 2010 title. Joining them will be Trabuco Hills (184), and the team from Mission Viejo is on a mission as well. Seniors Jared Hazlett and Nick Plumb combined with junior Naoki Omatso give them a potent 1-3, with Kevin Marshall and Max Moncur close behind. For the defending champs from Arcadia, they are led by senior Sergio Gonzalez, who had the second fastest time of Californians with a 15:04.33. Ryan Vargas, Estevan De La Rosa, and Mitchell Pratt help give Arcadia a 15:39 team average.
Darren Fahy of La Costa Canyon (Photo left by Sherri Cortez) leads a strong contingent of California runners. Fahy is ranked in the top ten nationally, and ran the fastest time of anyone from the California qualifiers: 15:02.70. He is predicted to run in the top five and could place as high as third. Sergio Gonzalez will be in the mix as well as Dylan Blankenbaker and Danny Martinez, who finished with the top four qualifying times.
At Large Bids
Four teams got the news that their postseason dreams were still alive. Westfield, Palatine, Santa Clarita, and Rancho Cucamonga will all make the trip to Portland to compete for the NXN crown. Westfield, out of New Jersey, finished third in the Northeast Regional and is led by senior Jack Leahy. Palatin, out of Illinois, had one of the toughest regions, finishing third in the Midwest behind Columbus North and Illinois rival York. Palatine, the Illinois 3A State Champions, have a great one-two punch with seniors Anthony Gregorio and Peter Tomkiewicz. On the West Coast, California sends two teams, that didn't earn automatic qualifying bids, in Rancho Cucamonga and Golden Valley (Santa Clarita). Both teams have solid number one runners, but their lack of depth at the four and five spots could separate them from the top teams.
Welcome to the world of Speed Ratings. While Track may be made conducive to simply comparing times, any cross country fan knows that times are only half the battle. To compensate, Bill Meylan of Tully Runners created a Speed Rating formula, based on a similar one for horse racing, to compare performances across courses, weather conditions, altitudes, and course conditions. As a result, the number it produces can be used to compare performances much like you would with a track time.
All Speed Ratings were taken from the respective Regional meets, with California using their respective State Meet ratings. They are not meant to predict the final outcome of the meet, only give a general idea of where each team stands. Anything can happen on race day, and with the great weather predicted for this weekend in Portland, Oregon, anything just might.
|Team||NXN Nickname||Speed Rating Avg.|
|American Fork||American Fork XC-UT||184.16|
|Christian Brothers||Brothers XC Club-NJ||182.82|
|Trabuco Hills||Trabuco XC Club-CA||182.42|
|Arcadia||Arcadia XC Club-CA||181.92|
|Southlake Carroll||Carroll XC Club-TX||180.52|
|Belen Jesuit||Miami Magis-FL||180.34|
|Rancho Cucamonga||Rancho Cucamonga XC Club-CA||180.08|
|Davis||Davis XC Club-UT||179.92|
|Golden Valley||Santa Clarita XC Club-CA||178.74|
|North Central||North Spokan-WA||178.02|
|Shaker||Shaker T+F Club-NY||177.92|
|Palatine||Palatine XC Club -IL||176.2|
|Gig Harbor||Gig Harbor R-WA||176.1|
|Brentwood||Brentwood XC Club-TN||174.82|
|Westfield||Blue Devil TC-NJ||174.28|
|The Woodlands||The Woodlands XC TX||166.4|
|Name||NXN||High School||Speed Rating|
|Futsum Zeinasellassie||UNA-IN||North Central School - IN||194.7|
|Darren Fahy||La Costa Canyon||La Costa Canyon - CA||194.1|
|Sergio Gonzalaez||Arcadia||Arcadia - CA||193.6|
|Tony Smoragiewicz||UNA - IN||Central High School - IN||193.5|
|Elliot Clemente||Miami Magis-FL||Belen Jesuit - FL||193.5|
|Dan Vertiz||UNA||Alamo Heights - TX||192.7|
|Anthony Armstrong||Tri-Cities||Kamiakin High School - WA||192.7|
|Luis Martinez||Storm XC Club||Sue Cleveland HS - NM||192.1|
|Izaic Yorks||UNA-WA-Tacoma||Lakes High School - WA||191.7|
|Dylan Blankenbaker||Ramona||Ramona High (SD) - CA||191.7|
|Danny Martinez||St. John Bosco||St. John Bosco (SS) - CA||191.4|
|Nick Ryan||Manlius XC-NY||Fayetteville- Manlius||191.3|
|Jake Leingang||Bismarck XC||Bismarck High School - ND||191.1|
|Luis Gutieres||Rancho Cucamonga||Rancho Cucamonga - CA||191.1|
|Dallin Farnsworth||UNA-ID-Pocat||Highland High School - IA||190.6|
|Kevyn Hoyos||Hebron XC Club-TX||Lewisville Hebron - TX||190.4|
|Bryan Guijarro||Knight||Glendale High - CA||190.4|
|Danny Carney||Dakota Ridge||Dakota Ridge HS - CO||190.1|
|Craig Nowak||Cy Woods Black Ops||Cypress Woods - TX||190.1|
|Michael Clevenger||UNA-IL||MacArthur High School - IL||190.1|
|Aubrey Myjer||Mountain View||Mountain View High School - CA||190.1|
|Clayton Young||American Fork XC-UT||American Fork - UT||190.1|
|Malachy Schrobilgen||GhostStriders-IL||Oak Park-River Forest HS - IL||189.9|
|Jonah Diaz||Palos Verdes||Palos Verdes - CA||189.9|
|Mike Libruk||Shaker||Shaker - NY||189.7|