This Saturday after everyone has celebrated Thanksgiving most of the nation’s top harriers will compete in three regional races to try to earn a spot in America’s premier race for prep athletes. This will be the 34th edition in this wonderful series, which began long before any would-be pretenders thought about giving something to the running community. On the line on Saturday will be trips to San Diego for runners from the Midwest, the South and the Midwest and with three-quarters of the berths available on Saturday many cross country fans refer to the day as ‘Super Saturday.’ Time limitations allow for only a look at the Midwest, which will have stellar fields on hand at the famed course at Wisconsin Parkside.
With six runners qualifying, as underclassmen last fall, there are four potential returnees, although Alexandra Fons of Wisconsin has not registered at this point. We’ll start with a look at Michigan stars Erin Finn and Julia Bos, who have registered very impressive resumes just this fall. Bos is undefeated with wins at MSU, Portage, Kent Ottawa & Cougar to name just four and she is her state’s Division 2 champion with 17:20. Finn has lost only once, and that was to Bos at MSU, but she has earned victories at Northview, Waterford Mott & Oakland County. Her victory in the D1 race at State was in a solid 17:07. Both runners are seasoned and should comfortably move on to nationals. Minnesota’s Maria Hauger is undefeated this year with victories at Gerry Smith & Griak plus the so-called Heartland Regional, while Kaylee Flanagan of Illinois has won at Fenton, Lancer & Palatine. Nicole Mello of Missouri placed second in her sectional & district races before coming home second at state in 18:40. It is certainly difficult enough to qualify for Foot Locker once but a return trip would appear to be in the cards for a number of these young stars.
Indiana boasts one of the nation’s strongest groups of young women with Anna Rohrer and Ashley Erba leading the way. Both runners have held the all-time record for girls at one point or the other during the season and Rohrer, who was injured last fall, claimed the state title in record time defeating Erba in the process. Anna won at New Prairie while Erba won at Culver. Erba, however, has been on a roll since state annexing NXN MW and then scoring at the Mid-East Meet of Champions last weekend. Bobbie Burgess placed ‘only’ third at state, yet would be a champion in most other states & must be considered as well and has been consistent with at least six marks under eighteen minutes. Not to be overlooked is Mackenzie Caldwell, who won at Artesian & Eagle before placing fourth at state. Other Indiana runners to watch are Gina Genco & Kelcy Welch.
Illinois will have a strong contingent representing it beyond Kaylee Flanagan including its 2012 champion Madeline Perez, who won at Hillsdale. Courtney Ackerman finished third at State & first at Finnish, while Brooke Wolfe just placed fifth in the Mid-East MOC. Ohio has produced a Foot Locker finalist more often than not and Jacqueline Crow is probably its best runner not to mention a state title-holder. Mary Kate Vaughn, Maddie Britton & Alex Markovich should also be in the mix.
Colorado is another state, which is often strong and this year should be no different. Heather Bates is the State’s champion & she placed third in the NXN Southwest regional but then that field is not remotely the caliber of this one. Jordyn Colter had been favored at State but was forced to drop out during the race but, if she has recovered, the winner at the Liberty Bell & Cherry Creek will be formidable. Colter also finished third at the prestigious Stanford meet. Other runners to watch are Missouri champion Taylor Werner and Isabel Seidel of Wisconsin, whose sister won the national title last year. Stephanie Jenks of Iowa could be a factor as well. Former Missouri champion Hannah Long is yet another, who could insert herself into the picture and it should be recalled, that she placed eleventh here last year in 17:47. Courtney Ackerman, incidentally, placed 14th at Kenosha last fall.
Of course the Kenosha course is challenging in its own right and runners need to remind themselves of that, lest they get caught up in individual duels, which will leave them vulnerable at the end. The course has a formidable hill early and then offers a bit of a roller coaster in the last mile and it needs to be remembered that the finish is on an up-grade. Still this is a very impressive and there is so much quality that some runners will fail here, although they would probably make it in other regional races, which appear on paper at least to be weaker. Then again it is far harder to qualify for any region of Foot Locker than in the pretender’s race but the award is worth it in San Diego and it should be, because this leads to a real national championship. Of course there is also 34 years of tradition: a history that has led to the fulfillment of Olympic dreams in real life not advertising.
There are three guys, who have a chance for a return engagement and they include Jake Leingang of North Dakota, Grant Nykaza of Illinois and Addison DeHaven of South Dakota. Jake is undefeated in a season, which includes the Rusty Bucket, Stavn & Griak and he added another state title to his trophy collection. Grant Nykaza won the Palatine Invitational with 14:36 and the Illinois 1A championship in 14:22 and, like Leingang, appears more than ready for a return appearance. DeHaven was one of the relatively rare guys to qualify historically as a sophomore and, if he enters, the South Dakota champion will be one to watch, although his 2012 campaign has had its ups and downs so far including a sixth at Griak, yet he did win at the Huron Invitational. Noah Kauppila of Missouri placed 14th here last fall and has had a solid season as long as we overlook his off day a State, where he finished twentieth. He won at Forest park in St. Louis. His friend & rival Adam Roderique, who placed sixth at State is also a possibility.
Just like the girls’ field the guys have a very strong group of challengers and you can start in Michigan with its Division 3 champion Nicholas Raymond, who posted the best time at State with 15:01. He also annexed the Mid-East Meet of Champions. Jeff Bajema had an off day at state placing fifth yet he won at Portage, while Tanner Hinkle was 2nd in D2 with 15:09. Nathan Burnand earned 3rd in D3 with 15:14 & Bryce Strode took 2nd in D2 with 15:07. Zach Nowicki is also a very capable runner.
Indiana sports the services of Connor Sorrells, who won both at Semi-State & at State before finishing sixth at Mid-East. He also won at Blue Chip plus South Knox, where he ran 14:58. Troy Reeder won at Carmel , Flash Rock & Brebeuf before taking third at State. Jackson Bertoli placed fourth at State and was a sectional champion. Karson Tays, second in Indiana with 15:33, is another to watch after starting the season slowly and coming on at the end of the season. The campaign included a victory at both sectional & regional prior to a second at Semi-State. He got his off-day out of the way at State and could surprise.
The Hoosier rivals north of the state in Illinois will be represented not only by Grant Nykaza but by Jack Keelan, who had the fastest time of the day at state, when he won his division at state. He placed a very close second to Nykaza at Palatine. Others to watch from Illinois include Riley McInerney (third at State & second at Mid-East), Patrick Perrier (3rd in his state division) and Skyler Bollinger.
Ohio will be represented by its Division 3 champion Samuel Prakel and its D1 champion Samuel Wharton, whose time of 15:09 was the best of the day. Nick Ellsworth set records all season as a junior before placing 4th at state & Kyle Polman, whose brother qualified last year, finished third at State.
Wisconsin will have Carl Hirsch, who won the Angel Run & was second at Griak and Kevin Ryan, who followed him at the Angel. Wisconsin 4A champion Ryan Kromer will also be formidable and Trevor Wunnicke has a family history at Foot Locker – Kinney. Always powerful Colorado will have the Geberkidane brothers, Ashi & Cerake, who garnered first & third respectively. Alec Brudzinski, who had an off day at State placing 7th, should also have something to say after his fine time at Liberty Bell, where he came in second.
It is still possible to enter late and there are a few runners, who could insert themselves into the equation but this is a large and high quality field. Good luck to everyone on race day and know that there is nothing remotely close to the Foot Locker experience no matter what the paid political advertising might have you believe. If you make it to San Diego it will be first class all the way!