Sarah Baxter Races For Place In History At 2013 NXN, Faces Epic Clash In Bid To End HS Career Undefeated

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1,500 Standouts Elise Cranny And Alexa Efraimson Hope To Hand Baxter Her First Loss

December 5, 2013

One race away from perfection.

Sarah Baxter, the 4-time California state champion and two-time Nike Cross Nationals (NXN) individual champion, has one race left in her high school cross-country career. She’ll be racing the Nike Cross Nationals on Saturday in Portland and if she wins it, she’ll go down in history with a feat that will never be able to be broken – it can only be matched. A win on Saturday and we believe Baxter will become the first modernAmerican prep to go undefeated for his or her high school career.

In the process, Baxter will win a national crown for the third straight year – a feat that’s never been done before as well. Eight others besides Baxter have won individual national crowns in two different years – Edward Cheserek, Lukas Verzbicas, Dathan Ritzenhein, Abdirizak Mohamud, Jordan Hasay, Erin Sullivan, Melody Fairchild and Erin Keogh all won two Foot Locker titles (Verzbicas also won an NXN one of those years) – but no one has ever won a national crown in three different years.

Yes, in our minds, there will be an asterisk* next to the undefeated career and three national crowns (much more on the * later below), but a win on Saturday and she’s very much in the mix when people are debating the greatest girls high school cross-country runners in history (MB discussion: Sarah Baxter’s place in history?).

How could she possibly lose, you wonder? Well, for starters, do any of you remember only a few weeks ago at the men’s race at the 2013 NCAA Cross- Country Championships? Prior to that race, people were asking the same thing about Kennedy Kithuka, and he ended his NCAA career with the only loss of his collegiate cross-country career.

And the fact of the matter is, Baxter is featuring two very worthy rivals in Colorado’s Elise Cranny and Washington’s Alexa Efraimson. There are a lot more people who think one of them will beat Baxter than thought Kithuka would lose heading into NCAAs. Some people think Efraimson deserves to be favored over Baxter.

We’ll give you the tale of the tape between “The Big Three.”

Sarah Baxter just seconds away from victory last year (Mary Cain in the background)

Sarah Baxter just seconds away from victory last year (Mary Cain in the background).

1. Sarah BaxterSenior – Simi Valley HS, CA
Achievements: 4 California state crowns, 2 NXN Crowns, never lost a high school XC race
Bonus Points: She’s raced Mary Cain twice at NXN and beat Mary Cain both times.
Track PRs: 2:17/4:49 (1,600)/9:31 (3k)
Tully Speed Rating in last race: 161

2. Alexa Efraimson – Junior – Camas, WA
Achievements: 2-time WA state champ, World youth bronze in 1,500, 4th at NXN last year
Bonus Points: Beat 2013 NCAA runner-up Emma Bates at Dellinger Invite this year.
Track PRs: 2:07/4:16 (1,500)/9:31 3k
Tully Speed Rating in last race:

3. Elise Cranny – Senior – Niwot, CO
Achievements: 2-time CO state champ, 7th at NXN last year
Bonus Points: Won Rocky Mountain Shootout over 2nd tier Colorado Buff runners. Coached by Jason Hartmann.
Track PRs: 2:08/4:15 (1,500)/10:38a (3,200)
Tully Speed Rating in last race:

Given their track speed, we understand why many people think Efraimson and Cranny very possibly could beat the undefeated Baxter in her final race, particularly given the fact that Efraimson beat NCAA runner-up Emma Bates earlier this year.

But in our minds, Baxter is the favorite. It’s a disservice to her to not consider her the favorite for the following three reasons.

Three Reasons Why Baxter Is The Favorite

1) She’s undefeated for her high school career.
2) Last year, she raced a track stud whom everyone viewed as unbeatable (given her fast 1,500 PR) and won. At NXN in 2012, Baxter raced a phenom by the name of Mary Cain, who we will point out had run much faster at 1,500 (4:11) than either Cranny or Efraimson have heading into this year. The result? A second straight victory by Baxter over Cain at NXN.
3) She’s got the best Tully speed rating on the year.

That doesn’t mean Baxter will win, it just means she has to be considered the favorite.

Sure, Efraimson’s win over Bates was fantastic, but that was early in the year. Three weeks before that, Efraimson lost to sophomore Ella Donaghu and we don’t know of anyone who thinks Donaghu is the person to beat because of that.

The Great Unknown: A Dry/Cold Course

Normally the NXN race is run on a wet and soggy course. The last two years show that Baxter isn’t fazed by those conditions. The conditions for this Saturday’s race are much different, however. Some pumps have been added for drainage and it has been dry all week in Portland. One track talk message board poster said the conditions early this week “are as good as they have ever been … I won’t say it is dry and fast but it is as dry and as fast as it has been.” And there is no rain in the forecast and the temperature at race time is supposed to be 23 (and sunny). So the race may run more like a road race than the sog-fest in recent years.

Team Battle

On the team front, the Fayetteville Manlius Girls will be looking for their eighth straight national title under the amazing tutelage of Bill Aris. They started off the year a bit slow and lost a few meets but are now the favorites according to the projections.

*Quick Take #1: We say there will be an asterisk simply because prior to 10 years ago, there weren’t two national meets – NXN and Foot Locker. Had there only been one national meet, it seems almost certain that Baxter would have lost in high school, probably multiple times.

Below we take a look back in history and analyze how we think Baxter would have done if there was just a single national race with everyone in it thanks to the Tully Speed Ratings historical ratings.

2010: After Baxter won the CA state meet as a freshman, she didn’t run NXN or Foot Locker. If she had run Foot Locker, she almost certainly would have lost. Baxter’s Tully speed rating of 158 when she won the CA state meet pales in comparison to the 170 that Aisling Cuffe put up in winning Foot Locker. 12 points = 36 seconds. Verdict: No way Baxter would have won a single national race as a freshman.
2011: Baxter won NXN with a speed rating of 154 and had a season’s best speed rating of 156 at the CA state meet. Molly Seidel won Foot Locker finals with a 160. 4 points = 12 seconds. Verdict: It’s unlikely that Baxter would have won a single national race as a sophomore, but somewhat conceivable.
: Baxter won NXN with a speed rating of 159 and Anna Rohrer won FL with a 159, but NXN was run in horrible conditions and bad conditions impact girls speed ratings more than boys. Verdict: Given the fact that Baxter had a 164 speed rating at Mt. SAC and 162 at the CA state meet earlier in the year and given the fact she beat Mary Cain at NXN, we have basically zero doubt Baxter would have won a single national race as a junior.

Quick Take #2: We talked about Mary Cain above and want to talk about her absence some more here. We totally understand why she’s not running high school cross-country this season but if you are looking for one of the reasons why track and field/cross-country isn’t more popular, her absence is a prime example of one of the sports biggest problems – athletes can just skip events/seasons they don’t like/ don’t excel at.

In golf, pros don’t skip majors held on courses that don’t suit them perfectly. In our sport, runners routinely skip entire seasons as unfortunately the only majors that truly matters for most are the Worlds/Olympics. Our sport needs cross-country/indoors to get back to the point where they have at least a little prominence. Worlds/Olympics will always be the Super Bowl but it would be nice if some other championships could at least serve the role equivalent to, say, the PGA Championship – a major but not as big of one as the US or British Opens or Masters.

Imagine if Mary Cain were in this race. The pre-race hype would be INSANE. Instead, we have to predict what would happen and Bill Meylan of Tully Runners has done just that – Forensic Handicapping – Assuming Mary Cain Runs NXN 2013; from last December: Individual Cross-Country Girls – Sarah Baxter, Mary Cain & Anna Rohrer – and Cain won’t run a race where a victory/loss really matters until when … the spring of 2015?

Quick Take #3: Remember, if it’s close at the end, that doesn’t mean that the person with the most track speed is going to win. In September, when Efraimson lost to Donaghu, they were even with 300 to go and Donaghu, who has a 4:31 1,500 PR, outkicked a woman with a 4:16 1,500 PR. And at the 2012 NCAA championships, the race turned into a 3-way sprint between Betsy Saina, Abbey D’Agostino and Jordan Hasay. The winner? The slowest miler of the three. Saina and her 4:40 PR beat out 4:30 milers Jordan Hasay (4:10 1,500) and Abbey D’Agostino (4:30 mile PR). Prediction: We love dynasties and therefore say Baxter FTW.

Want more info and info on the boys race? has you covered: NXN Boys & Girls Team Projections for 2013.

More: 2013 NXN Discusson On Our High School Message Board:
MB: NXN Baxter vs Efraimson vs Cranny: Best Matchup Ever
MB: Did Gerry Lindgren or any US male go undefeated for their HS careers?
MB: The Sara Baxter “Warm up”?
MB: Alexa Efraimson will win NXN 2013
MB: Has Sarah Baxter improved since last year?
MB: NXN at large bids
MB: Autistic High Schooler Qualifies for NXN.
MB: Are dogs allowed at NXN?
MB: NXN and Eligibility