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Contenders and Pretenders Excited for Saturday's Superbowl of High School Cross Country
by: Brian Culley
December 13, 2008

Who is the best high school football player in the country?  No one knows.  But each fall, the sport of cross-country has the grand opportunity to crown a singular National Champion.  No polls, no tournaments, and no rankings; just blood, sweat, tears, and maybe a couple of elbows thrown in your gut for good measure.  After all, it may only be high school, but it's still cross-country.

 

From each of four regional qualifiers, 10 athletes advance annually to the National Championships held in San Diego to race each other on the historic Morley Field 5K course.  One of the curious effects of bringing together such an esteemed field is that many of these runners have never faced such intense competition.  "We're not used to seeing this many guys all together," notes James Cameron, a senior from CA who finished 6th in the West Regional, "Everyone has trained and put in the time".

 

This year's edition will be at least as exciting as any other.  In the boy's race, a clear favorite has to defend himself against a direct onslaught of 39 challengers, while in the girl's race, three former Champions square off in the most tightly-contested field in a decade.

 

But 24 hours before the retort of the starter's pistol, many of these athletes aren't thinking about the race.  They're simply relaxing and soaking up the powerful sense of community which forms between people who share an intense experience.  "Not that many people run at home," cites Chelsea Oswald (Sr, OH), "It's great to be with people who understand [us]."  And based on comments from the two dozen former Foot Locker finalists wandering around, one can't help but appreciate the camaraderie which is as much a part of the Foot Locker experience as the finishing place, perhaps even more.  

 

When asked how this meet compares to their respective State meet, a collection of Midwestern qualifiers echo Cameron's opinion, "This is bigger than state" declares Lindsay Flanagan (Sr., IL), whose comment is supported by several nodding heads.  "This is every high school runner's dream; it's the Superbowl of our sport" claims Zachary Torres, a senior from California who finished 9th in the West Regional.  So is there a cause for concern from such elite competition, the likes of which they've not faced before?  "I don't want to get caught up in a pack going out too fast" cautions Emily Lipari (Jr., NY). 

 

And speaking of going out fast, it's important not to forget that amid the Foot Locker experience, there's still a race to be run and a national champion to be crowned.

 

Ashley Brasovan (Sr., FL), last year's Champion and one of the three toss-up favorites for the girl's race is optimistic.  "I'm coming in with more confidence.  I've run bigger races, with more competition, and I'm better prepared.  I'm really excited."  Brasovan was accidentally tripped in the South Regional and only finished 4th; an example of how difficult it can be to handicap contenders from across the country.  When pushed to do so, she explains, "You never really know how hard someone pushed in the Regional.  I'm just going to go how I feel.  Sometimes I feel like burning the first mile up".

 

Kathy Kroeger (Sr., TN) the 2006 Champion, 2007 Runner-up, and occasionally a direct competitor of Brasovan's says she has no idea what to expect, but in deference to the deep field predicts, "No one will run away with it.  The pack will catch an early leader".    

 

And for early (and late) leaders, one needs to look no further than boys pre-race favorite Solomon Haile (Sr., MD) who frequently finds himself in the enviable position of having a huge lead on his competition.  But very much in the spirit of the Foot Locker race, Solomon doesn't want to discuss the competition, unless we're talking about all the new friends he's met this weekend.  "I've met kids from Burundi, the Czech Republic, and lots of really good American athletes and students.  And I met my favorite runner, Ryan Hall." 

 

And on this day, the day before the race, that's what is most important to the runners; the history, the experience, and the friendship.  But in less than 24 hours, the 31st chapter of this austere book will be closed and another undisputable National Champion will be crowned and encouraged to pursue a life of professional athletics.  "So many guys went from Foot Locker to the Olympics," noted Haile, "you just don't know who will be an Olympian in a few years."

More LRC Coverage:

LRC's Girls Preview: 30th Edition Of Foot Locker Championship Is An All-Time Classic!! 3 Former champs will battle it out with a slew of newcomers. A truly exceptional race. The boys are definitely being overshadowed by the girls this year.
LRC's Boys Preview:
Can An American Win It? FLCC is normally all about the search for the next great American distance star. Not this year.

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