December 11, 2014
We hope you’re not busy on Saturday because this year’s Foot Locker Cross Country Championships could be one of the best races in the storied event’s 36-year history. On the boys’ side, the top three finishers from 2013 return (this is the first time ever that even two of the top three have come back); in all, nine of the top 16 boys will be back in 2014: LRC 2014 Foot Locker Finals Boys’ Preview: A Race forthe Ages. On the girls’ side, the most intriguing name is Indiana’s Anna Rohrer, who was denied a chance to defend her title last year due to two navicular fractures in her feet. Rohrer didn’t run a step this summer apart from a few runs on an Alter-G treadmill but she looked great in winning the Midwest Regional by 30 seconds two weeks ago and will enter Saturday’s race as one of the favorites.
We give you the relevant details for Saturday’s races below, followed by a detailed preview of the girls’ race (boys’ preview in a separate article).
What: 2014 Foot Locker Cross Country Championships
Where: Morley Field at Balboa Park, San Diego, California
When: Saturday, December 13. Girls’ race begins at 12:15 p.m. ET, boys’ race at 1:00 p.m. ET. Live webcast begins at 11 a.m. ET at this link.
Like a boulder hurtling down a mountain slope, Anna Rohrer has gathered momentum with every race this season. DyeStat’s Doug Binder documented Rohrer’s comeback from injury this fall — a recurrence of the same foot fractures that wiped out almost all of her 2013 cross country season — and it speaks to Rohrer’s natural talent. Normally momentum is a phony concept in sports, but it applies here. With every passing week, Rohrer becomes fitter and more closely resembles the girl that set the course record at Foot Locker Midwest two years ago and capped her season with a national title.
Like Fisher on the boys’ side, as a former champion Rohrer will be favored on Saturday and has a chance to join Jordan Hasay, Erin Sullivan, Melody Fairchild and Erin Keogh as the only girls to win multiple Foot Locker titles. Below, we give you the lowdown on Rohrer and her main competition for the crown on Saturday.
Anna Rohrer • Senior • Mishawaka, IN • 4:55.66 1600 • 10:14 3200 • 16:16.97 5000
Regional result: 1st Midwest, 16:57
Previous FL finishes: 1st (2012)
College choice: undecided
Major results this fall: 17:08 5k win at Indiana state meet (CR, won by 41 seconds)
We spoke about how the concept of momentum applies in Rohrer’s case and if you don’t believe us, just look at what she’s done in her six races this season:
|Date||Meet||Result (all 5ks)|
|10/11/2014||Indiana sectional||1st, 18:54|
|10/18/2014||Indiana regional||1st, 17:56|
|10/25/2014||Indiana semi-state||1st, 17:34|
|11/1/2014||Indiana state||1st, 17:08|
|11/15/2014||Mideast Championships||1st, 17:35|
|11/29/2014||Foot Locker Midwest||1st, 16:57|
Rohrer started out her season with a modest 18:54 win at her section meet but she’s gotten faster almost every race since then, culminating with a massive 16:57 win at Foot Locker Midwest in which she missed her own course record by three seconds. Rohrer won that race by 30 seconds, which almost shouldn’t be allowed at a Foot Locker regional. Rohrer won’t have a cakewalk to the national title on Saturday, but if she follows her pattern of getting better every time out, she’ll be very difficult to beat in San Diego.
Brianna Schwartz • Senior • Pittsburgh, PA • 4:42.10 1600 • 10:10.03 3200
Regional result: 1st Northeast, 17:35
Previous FL finishes: 6th (2013)
College choice: Colorado
Major results this fall: 17:39 5k win at Pennsylvania state meet on 11/1
Schwartz is undefeated on the year and defeated 2013 runner-up Hannah DeBalsi by a commanding 15 seconds at Foot Locker Northeast. Schwartz, who was sixth last year, is the second returner behind DeBalsi from last year’s finals. With Rohrer in the field, victory won’t be as easy to come by in San Diego, but if it comes down to a close race, Schwartz may have the edge. Her 4:42.10 1600 was the fastest in the country indoors last year and would have ranked second outdoors behind only Alexa Efraimson.
Ryen Frazier • Senior • Raleigh, NC • 4:44.20 mile • 10:12.26 3200
Regional result: 1st South, 16:27
Previous FL finishes: none
College choice: North Carolina State
Major results this fall: 17:22 5k for second at Great American XC Festival on 10/4 (lost to sophomre Libby Davidson)
Frazier doesn’t run for her high school, the Ravencroft School in Raleigh (it doesn’t belong to North Carolina’s high school athletic organization), but that hasn’t stopped her from posting several fast times this fall. Frazier finished second at the Great American XC Festival in her first race but went on to run 16:44 and defeat a college field at North Carolina State’s Three Stripe Invitational on November 8 (Frazier will enroll at NC State this fall) and followed that up with a 10:12 3200 on the outdoor track on November 15 and a 4:44 indoor mile on November 22. Frazier hadn’t moved on to track though; she smoked a 16:27 5k at FL South (just one second off the course record) two weeks ago and now enters San Diego as one of the top girls in the field.
Frazier hasn’t tackled a lot of major competition, but her track times are impressive (she was the mile champ at New Balance Outdoor Nationals in June). She also has a resource to draw on for advice on the Balboa Park course: her sister Wesley, a two-time Foot Locker finalist (best finish of 10th in 2009) who won eight national titles in high school between indoor and outdoor track.
Still something of an unknown quantity in cross country, Frazier should be among the leaders on Saturday. For more on Frazier, check out Binder’s nice post-FL South profile on her.
Hannah DeBalsi • Junior • Westport, CT • 4:47.50 1600 • 9:55.05 two-mile
Regional result: 2nd Northeast, 17:50
Previous FL finishes: 2nd (2013)
College choice: N/A (junior)
Major results this fall: 17:59 5k win at Connecticut state meet on 10/31 (won by 44 seconds); 17:58 5k win at New Englands (won by 25 seconds)
Entering the season, DeBalsi was regarded by many as the best high schooler in the country outside of Efraimson. As a sophomore, DeBalsi ran a spectacular 9:55.05 two-mile at the Brooks PR Invitational in June to move to #5 all-time among high schoolers (amazingly, she didn’t win the race as Bethan Knights ran 9:53.54, the #3 time ever). Couple that with her two-mile win at New Balance Outdoor Nationals a week earlier and her second-place finish at Foot Lockers (making her the top returner) and DeBalsi was a smart pick to finish the season as the national champion.
DeBalsi hasn’t done much this season that’s caused her to drop in the rankings but she hasn’t improved from last fall (which was admittedly difficult considering that she was the runner-up at Foot Lockers). However, she did lose to Schwartz at FL Northeast and based on her fall 2014 accomplishments, it’s difficult to say DeBalsi should be favored over any of the women above her on the list.
DeBalsi remains capable of a big race and though it’s not common for a non-regional winner to rebound and win nationals, it happens more frequently on the girls’ side than the boys’ (four times since 2000, most recently Ashley Brasovan in 2007).
Makena Morley • Senior • Bigfork, MT • 4:50.19 1600 • 10:15.37 two-mile
Regional result: 1st West, 17:33
Previous FL finishes: 8th (2013), 24th (2012), 9th (2011)
College choice: Montana
Major results this fall: 17:24 5k for win at Bob Firman Invitational on 9/27 (course record, won by 18 seconds); 16:33 3-mile to win Montana state meet on 10/25; 19:15 5k for fifth at NXN Northwest on 11/15
There’s a lot to like about Morley. In September, she ran a quick 17:24 5k to set the course record at the Bob Firman Invitational in Boise. Last weekend, she won FL West for the second consecutive year, running 32 seconds faster on the Mt. SAC layout this season. That made her the 23rd girl to qualify for nationals four times and the first since Emily Sisson and Jessica Tonn in 2009. She has twice finished in the top 10 in San Diego; heck, they even named the venue after her (okay, Morley Field isn’t actually named after Makena Morley).
There is also cause for concern. Foot Locker champions do not lose to freshmen, and Morley has already lost to freshman Annie Hill of nearby Kalispell, MT, three times on the season. Two of those losses came early in the season (September 20 and October 9) and Hill is no slouch — she took fourth at FL West and could one day join Morley as a four-time qualifier. It’s that third loss, however, that’s more distressing. Morley was just fifth at NXN Northwest on November 15 (obviously, she passed up NXN finals to run FL West), finishing behind Ella Donaghu, NXN champ Allie Ostrander, Lindsey Bradley and Hill (Donaghu and Bradley would both place in the top 12 at NXN). All four runners she lost to are great in their own right, but even if you think Ostrander is better than anyone at Foot Lockers, it would have been encouraging to see Morley contend with her at NXN Northwest.
So you can look at it two ways: that Morley is peaking at the right time (she won FL West by a staggering 38 seconds) or that her massive margin of victory was due to the fact that five of the top women from her region (Ostrander, Donaghu, Bradley and Californians Fiona O’Keeffe and Marissa Williams, all of whom were in the top 13 at NXN) were at NXN, not FL West, last weekend. Either way, Morley will have to be at the top of her game to contend for the win on Saturday.
One other note: Morley won’t be alone in San Diego. Her sister Bryn, only a freshman, also qualified for nationals.
Others names to watch
- Junior Paige Hofstad (New Braunfels, TX) was second at NXN last weekend and second at FL South the week before that. A top-five finish on Saturday would not come as a surprise.
- Other runners pulling the NXN/FL double: Audrey Belf (Bloomfield Hills, MI; 14th at NXN), Stephanie Jenks (Aurora, IA; 18th at NXN), Annie Frisbie (River Falls, WI; 20th at NXN), Sarah Kettel (Brighton, MI; 23rd at NXN) and Abby Gray (San Antonio, TX; 83rd at NXN).
- Weini Kelati (Leesburg, VA) is not your typical high school freshman. First of all, she’s 18 years old, meaning that she is only eligible for one more year of high school athletics. Second, she is from Eritrea and took eighth at the World Junior Championships this summer in the 3000 (running 9:12.32). Back in September, we wrote that Kelati should be a contender for the national title this year but she hasn’t been as dominant as expected and only got fifth at FL South. Kelati, who lives with her cousin (and former FL finalist) Amleson Teklai, likely won’t win, but she’s worth keeping an eye on.
- Aside from Schwartz, DeBalsi and Morley, there are three other returning finalists from 2013: Jenks (9th in 2013), Hannah Long (Pacific, MO; 23rd) and Gabriella Karas (Simpsonville, KY; 25th).
- Here’s a stat for you that just shows you many top girls can’t sustain their success as they mature. Of the 40 girls’ qualifiers last year, 22 were underclassmen. Amazingly, only six of those girls are returning to Foot Locker finals in 2014. Of the 16 others, four ran NXN, six ran at Foot Locker regionals but failed to qualify while six didn’t run either NXN or Foot Locker. Comparatively, there were 12 underclassmen boys’ qualifiers last year and the only one not to qualify this year was Michigan’s Ryan Robinson, who qualified for NXN instead and elected not to run Foot Locker Midwest.
Thanks to DyeStat TFX for the stats.
More: Discuss the race in our world famous messageboard: 2014 Foot Locker Girls Preview – Anna Rohrer looks to defy the odds and earn FL title #2. Our main forum (which has everything) is here but we also have a high school only forum.