Foot Locker 2012 Preview

John Dressel & Andrew Gardner at West Regional


     On Saturday the 34th edition of high school's premier showcase will take place in San Diego.   
On the starting line at Balboa Park will be forty of America's best female runners and then forty of
the nation's top guys.   The winner of each race will be proclaimed national champion and will join
a parade of champions, that stretches from Brent Steiner & Ellen Lyons in 1979 to Edward
Cheserek and Molly Seidel in 2011.  Along the way there have been a storied list of champions
including Bob Kennedy, Adam Goucher, Jorge Torres and Dathan Ritzenhein among the guys and
Ceci Hopp, Melody Fairchild, Jordan Hasay and Aisling Cuffe.  Of course it is amazing to realize
that the list of Foot Locker particiapants, who did not win here, yet used to race as a springboard
to greatness is equally impressive with the short list including Meb Keflezighi and RyanHall as well
as Suzy Favor Hamilton & Deena Drossin Kastor.  It is a long line of golden harriers and
unparallelled tradition.
     As has always been the case just qualifying is a major achievement and being a Foot Locker
finalist will always mean something special.   Everyone here on Saturday will have qualified on
their own effort and merit and the quality of the field will be underscored, when they read the
achievements of the runners prior to the race.   There is so much quality, that a State champion
could come in last, and not be totally surprised.   It is that across the board quality, which makes
predicticting a winner quite hazardous and even anticipating a top five finish is a gamble even if each
runner has a 'good day.'   Still, we'll endeaavor to take a look at a number of the favorites going into
the main event.
   The male contingent is especially solid with the bulk of the likely suspects at the regional races,
qualifying for San Diego.  Naturally it is hard to look past the defending national champion, Edward
Cheserek, who won a stirring duel with Fitsun Zeinasellassie with a winning time of 14:52.  Edward
has run an abbreviatiated fall campaign, which includes victories at Eastern States, Essex County,
the New Jersey Prep plus the Northeast Regional.  He will be tough to beat.  Cheserek's challengers
have their own impressive resumes and topping that list would appear to be Sean McGorty of Virginia,
Ben Saarel of Utah, Andrew Gardner of Washington, Jake Leingang of North Dakota and Jacob
Thomson of Kentucky.
    McGorty has had a busy campaign yet remains undefeated with victories at Monroe-Parker, Great
American, where he opposed a strong field, and Glory Days.  The Virginia champion ran 14:47 at
State and then triumphed at the South Regional in 14:49.   Andrew Gardner is a three-time finalist,
who backed off late in the race in the West knowing the important race is Saturday.   He had been
undefeated prior to that with victories at the Meadlander, records at both Mountain West and
Concordia and the Washington 4A Division.  Of note is that he has fared well on the Morley Field
course placing fourth as a sophomore and sixth as a junior.   Another to expect a fine race is Ben
Saarel of Utah, who scored at the West Regional & ran a stunning 14:56 in the 3A division.  Ben
also won at Murray and may have a bit of pressure taken off after narrowly missing the event in 2010.
Now he is free to let loose and show what he can do on the course.   Under normal cicumstances
JakLeingang, who placed fourth here last year, would also be considered highly but he is coming
off a race in Portland's Mud Bowl, which historically has compromised its runners.  Jake did not
have a good day and one can only hope he backed off in preparation like Gardner.   Jake of
course is the Midwest Champion as well as his State titlist once again.  leingang also won at
Mandan & at Griak.
       As fine as the group just listed is there is another group of contenders, who also have to be
feared on race day.   Jacob Thomson, the Kentucky champion has scored at Terre Haute, the
Trinity Valkyrie, where he defeated Jacob Burcham, and was second at Great American.   He placed
fourth in the South just ahead of Texas 5A champion Robert Domanic, who won the Flower Mound &
Neill.   Ohio D1 winner Sam Wharton, also ran in Portland but was narrowly beaten at the Midwest
Regional, while Nicholas Raymond of Michigan is his state's champion and placed third at Kenosha.
Nicholas has already joined Bob Kennedy on the list of Mid-East Meet of Champions and also is
quite capable of winning.   Another to watch is Jonathan Green of Massachusetts, who won his State
championship along with Bay State before  earning second in the Northeast.   
    There really are so many, who could fare well and have it not be considered surprising including
Joshua Brickell of Georgia is his state's leader & triumphed at the University of Georgia & Gwinnert
before placing third at Great American.  Josh placed second in the South.  Shawn Wilson took third
in the Northeast, while Troy Fraley of Montana garnered second in the West, although Zach Perrin,
who is the State champion came in 8th in the West.  One just never knows and a good case can be
made for a variety of other runners.  Pick your favorite and see how they fare on Foot Locker's live

Webcast on Saturday at

Gibson, Baltazar & Armstrong finish

     The girls' race has already suffered the vagaries of racing fate with a stellar cast having fallen due
to injury or illness.   In the Midwest Erin Finn, Julia Bos & Ashley Erba seemed like locks until they
were stopped by problems.   Grace Tinkey, who might have been one of the few four-time qualifiers,
did not run this season, so she passed on the South Regional and likewise Nikki Hiltz, who qualified
last fall in the West.   Anna Maxwell, Claire Carroll and Karlie Garcia also had issues and might well
have contested the issue in San Diego but all had issues.   They are mentioned as they will be
missed in many ways, yet there is an able cast on hand and there is always someone, whom fate
deals a different hand.  
    That said Anna Rohrer of Indiana struggled with injury in 2011 but this year she swept through
the campaign like few before her.   She has onlf lost once this fall and it took an indiana State record
to beat her.  Along the way Anna has won at New prairieand at the new haven Semi-State where
she ran an all-time  state best of 17:03.  She established a new course record at State despite a
stiff wind clocking a time of 17:13 but it was her victory at the Midwest Regional, which produced an
eye-poping results, for she dashed over the Kenosha course in 16:54.   That time was well better
than legend melody Fairchild and even Claire Durkin, who broke it in 2007.   Taking down a Fairchild
record says it all and Anna will be very tough to beat if she is on her 'A' game.   
    There are, of course, three other regional champions and all have stellar credentials.  Both South
champion Sophie Chase and Northeast titlist Catrina Rocha are amking a return engagement, which
gives them a familiarity of the course, which is a distinct advantage.   Chase has won at Maymont &
is the Virgina 3A champion, while Rocha won the Bay State before claiming the Massachusetts
state title.  Her time in the return to VanCortlandt was 17:49.   Marisa Williams is the West
champion with victories at Bellarmine & Seaside.  Her off day in the California state meet made her
somewhat of a surprise winner in the West but the way she ran and won was impressive and it is
hard to argue with 17:46 on the challenging Mt. SAC course.  All three runners, should they continue
their form will be a force to reckon with come Saturday.
     Julia Maxwell placed second at the West last weekend yet seemed to run conservativley.   The
California Division 4 champion also won at Mt. SAC and was fourth at Stanford, so she has already
had a quality season.   Staying in theWest another to watch is Makena Morley, who also is making
this a return engagement.  Makena moved up after the switch-backs but also did not seem to press
the issue on Satturday.  The Montana champion has won at Flathead, Ronan and Mountain West.
Placing right behind her was Montana AA champion Paige Gilchrist, who ran the fastest time at
State of 17:45.  Paige won at Butte and was second at both Flathead & Mountain West.   

Erin Clark, Katie Bianchini & Sally Larson

    Returning to the Midwest we find potential champions in Missouri State champion Taylor Werner
and Minnesota champion Maria Hauger.   Werner scored at Forest park & Hancock before taking
second in the Midwest in 17:00.  Hauger brought back memories of Carrie Tollefson with her string
of victories at State and was undefeated prior to her third place effort in at Kenosha.   Along the way
she secured victories at Gerry Smith and at Griak and also won the so-called Heartland.  Colorado's
best runner was Jordyn Colter, who struggled at her State meet yet won at Cherry Creek, Cheyenne
and at Liberty Bell.  She traveled to California to place third at the prestigious Satanford Invitational.   
She returned to form with her fourth in the Midwest.  Not to be overlooked is a fine long-shot bet in
Bobbie Burgess, who placed third in Indiana behind Rohrer & Erba yet had a very fine season scoring
at Harrison and the New Haven Semi-State meet.  She is remarkably consistant with only clocking
over  eighteen minutes in a Saturday race & she placed second in the Mid-East Meet of Champions.
     Looking to the South there is Texas  State champion karis Jochen (17:18), who won at NXN South
before coming in second at McAlpine.  Maggie Drazba of West Virginia is her state's winner and she
also won at the Autumn Classic, Geico, Bearcat & at Great American (17:27).   Third in the South
with 17:10 she will be formidable and not to be overlooked is Caroline Alcorta, who placed second in
Virginia behind Sophie Chase as well as  Maymont.   Caroline scored at William & Mary and her 8th
in the South should be forgotten.  
     The normally strong Northeast boasts Megan Curham of New Jersey, who was second at
VanCortlandt and third in the State's meet ofChampions.   Katie Lembo of New York won a division of
McQuaid and also triumphed at Clarence.  She placed second in the New York Federation Meet prior
to her third in the Bronx.   MacKenzie Barry won at Roxbury and the Magee and was third in the New
Jersey MOC before her sixth in the Northeast.   
    There are numerous others included kaylee Flanagan, who returns to San Diego Sandra Raines
who was second in Texas & seventh in the South.   The fact is that on any given day there are a
number of runners capable of delivering the goods.  As noted earlier everyone here is in some way a
champion.  It is difficult to count anyone out before hand.
     This year Northwest fans will have a great deal to cheer on race day, because they will be well
represented.   The area was almost even better represented, as Idaho state champion Elijah  
Armstrong  just missed by placing eleventh as did Oregon runner Erin Clark, who had the same near
miss in the girl's race.   Still the northwest will have many rooting interests besides Andrew Gardner,
who we have already considered.  John Dressel of Spokane is onloy a sophomore yet placed sixth at
Mt. SAC.   He was also second at Walters plus fourth at Mountain West.   Patrick Gibson of
Bellingham is the State 2A champion and the winner of the oregon - Washington Border Clash.  Pat
also scored at Sehome, South Whidbey and Mt. Baker.   Poli Baltazar of Aberdeenfollowed Gibson
across the finish line at state and then at the West.   Poli won at Sunfair & Montesano and is a
story in his own right, as he skipped the Border Clash to earn money to attempt the West regional.  
There is only one female representeative but that is Katie Bianchini, who earned a trip to sunny San
Diego.  She placed thrid in the tough Washington 3A division but won at Sehome.  Katie was also
second at Sundodger and Hole-In-the-Wall plus an impressive sixth at Stanford.   It seems fitting
that Bianchini will run her last high school race in a more than solid four-year prep career at Foot
Locker.  It is nice to see the Northwest so well represented and they all deserve the honor of
joining the great Foot Locker tradition.
     We will post updates on some of the numerous events & festivites during the course of the
weekend.   This is much more than just a race.   Stay tuned as the gang arives on Thursday.
Good luck and good running to all the harriers.

Katie Bianchi qualifies