December 4, 2014
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For the first time in the 11-year history of Nike Cross Nationals, the race will not be held at the Portland Meadows horse racing track. That venue, which could get extremely muddy (the winning time in the boys’ race was over 16:00 three times and was 17:08 in 2012), has been replaced by the Glendoveer Golf Course, 11 miles to the southwest. Everything else about the race remains the same however; 5000 meters, with 22 boys’ teams, 22 girls’ teams and 90 individuals (five boys and five girls from each of the eight NXN regionals plus the California state meet) all descending on Portland to crown national champions.
While individual champions will be crowned, most of the nation’s top individuals will be in San Diego for the Foot Locker finals next week. The real focus at NXN is on the teams. Below, we preview the boys’ and girls’ races in Portland on Saturday.
When: Saturday, 1:05 p.m. ET
Where: Glendoveer Golf Course, Portland, Ore.
How to watch: Stream the meet live here (coverage starts at 12:30 p.m. ET)
There’s no overwhelming favorite in the boys’ team race as the top five teams in the most recent Dyestat rankings (November 27) all have question marks. American Fork (UT) currently holds the #1 ranking and set a record for fastest team time in winning the Utah 5A state meet on October 22. But the Cavemen barely won the Southwest Regional, 72-75 over #3 Davis (UT) after defeating Davis 33-69 at states. #2 Fayetteville-Manlius (NY) was similarly challenged at the New York Regional, dispatching #9 St. Anthony’s (NY) 76-88. Neither of those results are necessarily alarming but they speak to the tightness of the top group of teams.
The next three teams have bigger problems. Davis is ranked third in the nation but, as just mentioned, it lost to American Fork in its last two races. #4 Summit (OR) and #5 Brea Olinda (CA) both won their state meets but it’s unlikely that either of those teams will challenge for the title on Saturday as both will be missing their #1 runners, who have elected to run Foot Locker West on the same day instead. Summit actually ran without its top guy, Matthew Maton, at the Northwest Regional and grabbed an auto spot, but it lost to #8 North Central in the process (and edged out #19 Kamiakin (WA) by just 10 points). Maton broke Galen Rupp‘s Oregon state meet record on November 1 by 10 seconds, so taking him out of the lineup really hurts.
Likewise, Brea Olinda will feel the absence of top man Austin Tamagno, who ran 14:23 for 3 miles at Mt. SAC on October 25 to break the course record. Tamagno announced after last weekend’s California state meet (and after the list of NXN qualifiers from California were announced) that he will run Foot Locker West. Since then, there’s been some debate on the messageboards about which boys’ teams should be going from California.
The debate centers around two questions: Is it fair that Brea Olinda qualified even though its top runner has confirmed that he won’t be running nationals? How can Great Oak, which won the Division I race, for the largest schools, not qualify?
To us, the answer to the first question is simple — if Brea Olinda earned its spot, it should have the option of running whoever it wants at NXN. Yes, it’s unfortunate that Tamagno won’t run, but to us it’s the same as if he came down with an injury this week. Brea Olinda’s spot shouldn’t be taken if Tamagno elects not to run, just as it wouldn’t be taken if Tamagno got hurt and couldn’t run. The second question is more problematic. We spent half an hour scanning the Internet for the official explanation of how teams are selected to NXN from the California state meet and couldn’t find any official selection criteria (if you know where it is, drop us a line). The best explanation we could find was from last year from Prep Cal Track’s Rich Gonzalez, who explained:
Results from all divisions combined at the California state meet will be referred to in making the determinations of the automatic qualifiers (again, two teams and five individuals per gender), with a statistical “power merge” of less than 20 top teams from the meet’s overall results (NOT the full merge of all state meet teams) being used to identify those auto qualifiers to nationals!
Okay. But that doesn’t explain exactly how many teams are scored, nor the criteria they are scored under (we’re assuming points in the re-scored power merge race). To us, it’s understandable that California teams have to be scored in this manner under the current system as it’s impossible to run a single championship race in a state of 38 million people. If each team knows the criteria for selection going in (which seems to be have each of your runners run as fast as possible to score the fewest points in the power merge), then the power merge system would seem to be the fairest way to select teams. Alternately, the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF), which puts on the state meet, could move the state meet (and all qualifiers) up by one week and then NXN could have a separate qualifier like New York does. This seems like the most logical way to do it as all the top teams would get to race each other at the same time on the same course.
Winning the D1 race shouldn’t guarantee Great Oak a ticket to NXN as they knew what they had to do coming in and didn’t get it done. And one last note on Tamagno. We couldn’t find the official power merge scores, but TullyRunners put together a combined race of the top 600 fastest individuals from the California state meet. With Tamagno, Brea Olinda would finish second, with 299 points. Without him, it would have to sub in #6 man James Lindstrom (230th in combined race) for Tamagno (7th). It’s hard to say how many points that would cost Brea Olinda exactly (the Tully Runners merge didn’t note team places) but it certainly would have knocked Brea Olinda out of NXN consideration.
In terms of which boys’ team will win on Saturday, it should come down to American Fork or Fayetteville-Manlius. Both boast an individual in Dyestat’s top 30 (#24 Zac Jacklin for American Fork, #9 Bryce Millar for F-M) and both have been two of the most successful boys’ schools in the history of NXN. Here’s what they’ve done over the past five years:
You’ll notice that “1st” does not appear in either of those columns. Neither of the schools has won a boys’ championship (F-M does have seven girls’ titles) and chances are that fact changes for one of them on Saturday. So how do the teams stack up against each other? Below, we’ve listed each team’s top five runners with relevant pbs and their best 2014 Tully speed rating (a measure developed by TullyRunners to compare performances on different courses). Remember, one speed rating is worth three seconds.
|#1||Bryce Millar (4:21/9:04, 199)||Zac Jacklin (4:23/9:21, 193)|
|#2||Kyle Barber (2:36 1k, 194)||Casey Clinger (4:40/9:51, 192)|
|#3||Peter Ryan (4:30/9:21, 194)||McKay Johns (4:23/9:33, 188)|
|#4||Adam Hunt (9:35, 189)||Jacob Chase (4:25, 180)|
|#5||Riley Hughes (4:45/10:00, 178)||Joseph Simmons (4:44/10:10, 178)|
Meets used for F-M: Manhattan Invitational (Oct. 11), Section 3 Champs (Nov. 1), NYSPHSAA Class A Champs (Nov. 8), NXN NY (Nov. 29)
Meets used for AF: Region IV Champs (Oct. 10), Utah 5A Champs (Oct. 22), NXN Southwest (Nov. 22)
F-M has an edge in the speed ratings (which are obviously inexact), but it also benefits from more recent data points than AF. And when you consider that most of the pbs of the AF runners were set at altitude, their pbs look more impressive than those of the F-M runners. Plus, Clinger is only a sophomore and has improved tremendously this fall (he was AF’s top runner at Regionals) so his freshman pbs are misleading. However you can also argue that Barber’s pbs are misleading too, as he’s primarily a 400/400 hurdler on the track according to Dyestat TFX (pbs of 49.90 and 54.81) but is good enough over 5k to take third at the Class A state meet and 15th at Regionals.
The problem with making these sorts of comparisons is that good high school teams just aren’t able to race each other (and don’t have common opponents, either), making any sort of direct comparison very difficult. It seems that F-M has an advantage at #1 and overall looks like a stronger team (it returns four of its top five from a 4th-place team last year, while AF returns three of its top five from a 7th-place team) but we won’t know exactly how good each team is until Saturday. We’ll give the slight edge to F-M.
If Maton and Tamagno were on the line, it would be tough to say who the favorite would be on Saturday. Their absence leaves one man ahead of the pack: North Central (WA) senior Tanner Anderson. Anderson is the top returner from 2013 (he was third) and his last two races have left no doubt that he’s the top boy in the field. On November 8, Anderson delivered the greatest cross country performance ever by a Washington boy (and one of the best by any boy) by running 14:32 for 5k to set a new course record at the state meet at Sun Willows Golf Course in Pasco. No one broke 15:00 on the course prior to 2011, and the number two time ever at Sun Willows is Anderson’s 14:44 from last year.
You can take issue with exactly how good Anderson’s run was (Dyestat poster Watchout has put together an all-time list for the course including conversions from when the course was 3 miles and 5.2k) but there’s no doubt that Anderson’s is the best. Consider that Anderson beat the runner-up — last year’s Foot Locker runner-up, John Dressel, by 15 seconds and Dressel in turn beat the third-placer by 26 seconds. Anderson followed that up with a 27-second win at NXN NW on November 15. No other runner in the field can come close to Anderson’s experience and accomplishments — if anyone other than him breaks the tape on Saturday, it will be a huge upset.
Anderson is not invincible. He’s actually lost three times this season — to Utah’s Conner Mantz at the Bob Firman Invite on September 27, to Dressel at their state qualifying meet on November 1 and to Dressel and Maton at the Oregon/Washington Border Clash on November 23 (though it appeared that the three planned to cross together until Dressel took off late in the race). If Anderson is on his game, no one is touching him, but if he’s not, then he is beatable. Who could do it?
There are several candidates, but the best among them are Millar and Jesse Reiser of McHenry (IL). Based on Tully Runners’ speed ratings, Anderson’s 203 at the Washington state meet is the top performance by any NXN runner this fall. Millar’s 199 from the Manhattan Invitational (he was second in 12:02, the fourth-fastest performance ever behind only Edward Cheserek and Alex Ostberg) is #2, and that performance, coupled with his wins at states and NXN NY, makes him a good pick for the top three. Reiser won the Illinois 3A state meet by 10 seconds in 14:11 (3 miles), won NXN Midwest in 15:01 at Terre Haute and last weekend finished third at Foot Locker Midwest. Adam Barnard of Daniel Boone (TN) ran very well at NXN Southeast (14:44 5k, winning by 12 seconds; 196 speed rating) and should also be in the mix.
Once again, the favorite on the girls’ side is Fayetteville-Manlius (#1 in the Dyestat rankings), which won seven straight titles from 2006-2012 before finishing second to Wayzata (MN) last year. Despite losing thee of its top five from NXN last year, F-M has dominated again this fall, posting big wins at NXN NY (34-68), the Class A state meet (20-85) and the Manhattan Invitational (48-81). In Tully Runners’ NXN preview, they note that F-M would win convincingly if it runs as it did at Regionals and would dominate if it replicated its performance at states. That’s not to say F-M is a lock, but the Hornets’ history of timing their peak perfectly for NXN (due in large part to coach Bill Aris — check out our 2010 conversation with him here) suggests that if F-M is the best team on paper, odds are it will win on Saturday (F-M was favored slightly last season but not overwhelmingly so as in years past).
The two best shots to challenge F-M are Great Oak (CA) (#2 per Dyestat) and Carmel (IN) (#3). Great Oak won Division 1 of the California state meet and averaged 18:13 for its top five runners on the 5k Woodward Park course (13 seconds per girl faster than #8 Saugust, the next-best team). Great Oak also scored just 38 points to win the Girls Team Sweepstakes race at the Mt. SAC Invitational and that was with its top runner, Destiny Collins, finishing as its #7 runner due to injury (she was back to their #1 at states, taking third in the D1 race). Collins, who has run 4:45 and 10:14 on the track, will need to be at her best on Saturday if she is to lead Great Oak to a victory.
Carmel, meanwhile, defeated a tough field to win NXN Midwest, 103-113 over Naperville North (IL) and also scored 55 to win the Indiana state meet. Carmel also ran FL Midwest and went 15-28-37-41-50, putting three more runners in the top 65. Like F-M, Carmel has been very good for a long time (it has finished in the top seven in each of the past four years) and it wouldn’t take a monumental effort to defeat F-M. For Carmel or Great Oak to win, what likely has to happen is for one of F-M’s top five to have a bad day. In their last two races, there’s been a sizable gap between F-M’s #5 and #6 (16 seconds at NXN NY; 41 seconds at states) and if one of the usual top five (Olivia Ryan, Samantha Levy, Sophia Ryan, Jenna Farrell, Annika Avery) runs poorly, F-M’s #5 could be too far back for the Hornets to overcome Great Oak or Carmel.
One other team worth noting is #22 Camas (WA) — the school 2013 NXN champ Alexa Efraimson attends. Efraimson, who ran 4:07 for 1500 last spring to become the second-fastest high schooler ever, signed with Nike in August and no longer competes for Camas. We wrote in September how it would make sense for Nike to allow Efraimson to run at NXN. Since Nike runs the meet, it can make its own rules, it’s good publicity for Efraimson and Nike and Camas is just 20 minutes from Portland. And we’re sure Camas would love to add Efraimson to its team for nationals. Instead, Efraimson will have to stand on the sidelines as her classmates run the race.
There girls’ individual race is not as clear-cut as the boys’ individual race. Fiona O’Keeffe of Davis (CA), the top returner from last year (4th overall) is the favorite, though she’s not a slam dunk. O’Keeffe, who has pbs of 4:49 and 10:14 on the track, ripped a 16:40 5k at the Stanford Invitational in September, won the Girls Individual Sweepstakes race at Mt. SAC and was the only girl to break 17:00 for 5k at the California state meet (she ran 16:56). There’s a lot to like about her.
For most of the year, the girl who looked most likely to challenge her was Allie Ostrander of Kenai Central (AK). Ostrander, like O’Keeffe, has broken 17:00 on multiple occasions (though both came very early in the season — 16:44 on August 23 and 16:40 on September 6). She’s raced just once since winning the Alaska state meet by 1:38 on October 4 (yes, Alaska’s state meet is held on the first weekend of October) but Ostrander’s fast times in XC and on the track (4:49/10:03) mean that she must be respected. However, she lost NXN Northwest (her first race in six weeks) so we don’t know exactly what kind of shape she’ll be in on Saturday. We’ll give the edge to O’Keeffe (who looked great winning the California state meet last weekend) as we’ve got more recent data on her than Ostrander.
Several other women could threaten those two. The best bet is Ella Donaghu of Grant (OR), a junior who only has one loss on the season (to O’Keeffe at Stanford, though it was by 34 seconds). Donaghu upset Ostrander at NXN Northwest three weeks ago (18:55 to 18:59 on a snow-covered course) and if she can beat an Alaskan on snow, she should be a real threat to win if the course is sloppy on Saturday (current forecasts have call for rain on Thursday and Friday and a high of 55 on race day). Donaghu, who was 9th last year, also has good genes: she’s the daughter of Michael Donaghu, an All-American who helped Dartmouth to second-place NCAA XC finishes in 1986 and 1987. If you like fast parents, you should also look for for Katie Rainsberger from Air Academy (CO), who was sixth last year, daughter of Lisa Rainsberger — the last American woman to win the Boston Marathon.
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