Nathan Weitz & Andrew Gardner
Saturday marks the thirty-third edition of the high school cross country race, which changed the playing
field for both prep and collegiate levels. Before the races began women, much-less girls, were limited to a 3K as
the longest sanctioned race. Once Kinney, now Foot Locker, began the series college scholarships multiplied
and opportunities expanded for runners. Young runners, who are fortunate to qualify and had the temerity to try
to qualify are joining a three decade tradition that has produced a volume of NCAA champions, US National
winners and a fair number of Olympic medalists.
Over the years there have been a number of years, which had an abundance of future stars. For the girls
there was 1990 with Deena Drossin, Jen Rhines, Melody Fairchild & and Amy Rudolph and 1994 produced Carrie
Tollefson, Kara Wheeler Goucher & Amy Yoder Begley. For the boys 1986 with Bob Kennedy, Todd Williams
and Marc Davis was a very strong year, while 2000 with Ryan Hall, Dathan Ritzenhein & Alan Webb, plus Bobby
Curtis stands out among the various years. It is always hard to predict things, especially in distance running,
but this year's group of guys could rival those earlier groups. Front and center is New Jersey's Edward Cheserek,
who is undefeated and has established new records on a number of traditional courses like VanCortlandt
Holmdel, Brown & Sunken Meadow. Along the way he has triumphed at Shore Coaches, Eastern States and
Brown. The Northeast Regional will be tough to beat. If the Northeast champion is to be defeated Futsum
Zeinasellassie of Indiana would appear to be the most likely suspect. The Midwest title-holder ran 14:58 on the
formidable Kenosha course. he is also undefeated with victories as Carmel, Flashrock, the Brebeuf Sectional,
State among others. He is one of only three runners to qualify as a freshman and he placed second at Nationals
California's Darren Fahy is also undefeated after victories at Bronco, Clovis, Stanford, Mt. SAC & State, where
he had the fastest time of the day. last Saturday he claimed the West Regional against a quality field. Nathan
Weitz, like Fahy, is a repeat qualifier. He ran 14:33 at Sundodger and placed second at State in a thrilling race,
which obliterated the course record. Last year Nathan topped Darren at West and then followed him home in
San Diego. May be this year is his time to turn the tables on Fahy. Andrew Gardner finished fourth at Foot
Locker as a sophomore. Andrew has an ability to understand his body's messages and then race accordingly.
He won the Mountain West title and was second at both sunfair & State. Last weekend he knew that the point
was simply to qualify, so he can be expected to be formidable.
Like the other runners, who have been mentioned, Ahmed Bile has the advantage of having run on the Balboa
park course previously. The Monroe Parker winner is also the Virginia State champion and he was second in
the South Regional. He, of course, lost that race to Texas State champion Craig Nowak, which gives the Texan
instant credibilty. Tony Smoragiewicz and Jake Leingang are a bit difficult to catagorize, as they both ran in
the mud bowl in Portland, which more often than not takes a good deal out of a runner. The course was not as
bad this year & last, because it was essentially frozen, yet they both ran on a course, which is not a true XC
course and forces runners to use different muscles in different ways. That said Smorgy, as he is often called,
finished third at Foot Locker last year. The South Dakota State champion won the Heartland title but placed
fifth in the Midwest Regional. Jake Laingangis the North Dakota champion and he finished second at Heartland.
Jake ran a very fine 15:10 to earn second on the Kenosha course.
As noted this a very fine field with many runners having impressive credentials. Billy Gaudreau of California
is a California Divisional champion, who has scored at orange County and in a division at Mt. SAC. Dallin
Farnsworth of Idaho has a string of victories that include Caldwell, the Tiger/Grizz and Firman. The two-time
State champion has erased a number of records and he showed he can handle hills at both Firman & the West
Regional. Tim Ball scored at the New Jersey Meet of Champions and has succeeded at Shore Coaches.
His only loss prior to his third place in the Northeast Regional was his second place finish to Edward Cheserek
at Eastern States. Another runner to watch is Daniel Lennon of New York, who finished third at State, yet
grabbed second in the Northeast. He has also earned victories at Burnt hills, as well as V-V-S. There are many
fine runners, who will make their own cases on Saturday including California C J Albertson, who won at Clovis,
Mt. Whitney, Woodbridge & Seaman before an off day at State. He and the others both mentioned and
unrecognized here could have more than something to say on race day.
Unlike last year, when Aisling Cuffe appeared to be as close to a lock as a cross country race can have,
this year's race appears to be fairly wide open at least on paper. Molly Seidel of Wisconsin earned our attention
last year when she soared over the Kenosha course in mid-season. A badly swollen knee compromised last
year's regional race, yet she still managed to finish eleventh. This year a healthy Seidel has been so impressive,
that she has been compared with Suzy Favor Hamilton, who like Molly is a fout-time Wisconsin State champion.
this season she won at Arrowhead, Kenosha Angel, Wi. Lutheran and the Border War. Anyone, who can run
17:08 on the Wisconsin-Parkside course has to be feared, for after all even the great two-time national champion
Melody Fairchild 'only' ran 17:10. While we are on the subject of four-time State champions, we should consider
Abbey Leonardi of Maine, who also is a three-time Foot Locker finalist. Is the third time the charm? That is
hard to say but she certainly knows the course. Abbey has won at the Miane Festival of Champions & the
West Maine Regional before placing second in the Northeast.
Angel Piccirillo of Pennsylvania had been predicted to place no worse than third in the Northeast and then
quickly took care of that prosnostication by earning the victory. The Pennsylvania State champion also won
the Harry Groves Invitational. She was a 2010 finalist as well. Julia Bos won the Pioneer Classic early in the
season before placing third at the MSU Spartan Invitational. Since then she has been on a tear with times of
17:19 at the Cougar Falcon & 17:32 at Portage. At state in Michigan, Julia won with 17:24 and although she
placed second in the Midwest, she ran 17:14: a mark that is the fourth best on the course behind Claire Durgin,
Molly Seaidel & Melody Fairchild. Upas Hill at Balboa should not be a problem. Erin Finn, also from Michigan,
is the highest returning finisher from 2010 after her seventh place finish. She had been undefeated until her third
in the regional and her victories include MSU, Waterford Mott, Saucony plus six other races.
The South has definitely been on the rise the past few years and this year once again they bring a strong
group of contenders, which has Texas state champion and South Regional winner to the fore. Sophie Chase &
Grace Tinkey were close behind Roper and they both are returning to Morely Field. Grace won at Viking, Our
Lady of Mercy and Wesleyan before annexing the Georgia State title. Sophie also has had a banner year with
scores at Monroe Parker, North Port & the Virginia State meet. Both ran times that wereonly a little bit over
seventeen minutes, so they are very capable young ladies.
The West saw an impressive front-running race by Karlie Garcia, who returns to nationals after a year away
from Foot Locker. She made up for a second place finish in the California State meet. She has won at Del
Oro, Clovis and Mt. SAC (a division). Utah State champion Kelsey Braithwaite was always near the front last
Saturday and her 17:55 is for real. Throw out her tenth at Firman and look instead at her triumph at BYU
Autumn, where she ran 17:56. Makena Morley of Montana also came as a bit of surprise last weekend, yet there is
no arguing with her result. We had been watching from a distance early in the season but Jordan McPhee's
run at Richland made us a believer. She has won at Ballermine, Ft. Steilacoom but her 4A victory at State in
17:25, which was five seconds under the old course record should have added a good deal of believers. Jordan
took the lead up "Poop Out" on Saturday and she is, as they say, for real. Emily Nist is a three-time state
champion from Idaho, while Clare Carroll & Anna Maxwell of California will be on hand for areturn engagement.
The pressure is off, as it is for Woodbridge winner Cami Chapus, and any of them could soar on Saturday.
Catrina Rocha is yet another runner to watch after her fourth place effort in the Northeast. The
Massachusetts State champion is capable of big race as is Megan Moye, who placed third in a strong field
at Great American before taking fourth in the South. Every runner here has been a champion and even more
importantly each and every runner here has qualified on the field. No runner has been simply handed a spot
on the starting line, because some so-called expert wanted them to compete or someone on their team.
These runners have earned the right to be her by proving they belong. It is also worthy of note that, no matter
what occurs on race day, they will all be treated as champions well beyond what one might consider 'first class.'
The races Saturday could be special but the experience will be special for all involved.