2015 Foot Locker Finals Boys’ Preview: Can Drew Hunter Stamp Himself As An All-Time Great By Closing Out A Perfect Season With A Dominant Win?
December 9, 2015
Last year’s Foot Locker Cross-Country Championships were about two transcendent talents — Grant Fisher and Anna Rohrer — etching their names into history as each secured their second Foot Locker titles. Both Fisher and Rohrer graduated last spring, so no one will be gunning for a repeat title, but once again there are two athletes who have separated themselves from the rest of the country in 2015 — and they go to school 11 miles apart in Loudoun County, Va. Drew Hunter, of Loudoun Valley High School, and Eritrean Weini Kelati, of Heritage High School, have rolled through the competition this fall and both took commanding victories at Foot Locker South, Hunter by 33 seconds and Kelati by 22.
Athletes from the same state have only swept Foot Lockers once (Californians A.J. Acosta and Jordan Hasay in 2005), so it would be would certainly be unique if two athletes from the same county could accomplish the feat on Saturday. We give you the details on Foot Lockers below, followed by a look at the top contenders in the boys’ race. Our girls preview is in a separate article here.
What: 2015 Foot Locker Cross Country Championships
Where: Morley Field at Balboa Park, San Diego, California
When: Saturday, December 12. Girls’ race begins at 12:15 p.m. ET, boys’ race at 1:00 p.m. ET. You can watch the race for free on LetsRun.com here. The free live webcast begins at 11 a.m. ET..
The Heavy Favorite
Drew Hunter • Senior • Purcellville, VA • 4:02.36 mile • 8:42.51 two-mile
Regional result: 1st South, 14:26
Previous FL finishes: 4th, 2014
College choice: Oregon
Major results this fall: 14:20 5k win at Third Battle Invitational on 10/17 (won by 1:07); 15:03 at Virginia 4A state meet on 11/13 (won by 56 secs)
The first sign that Drew Hunter could be capable of something special this fall actually came last spring, when he upset two-time defending Foot Locker champ Grant Fisher to win the Brooks PR 2-mile on June 20. Hunter’s 54-second last lap powered him to an 8:42.51 clocking, a junior class record, and in the process handed Fisher his first loss to a high schooler in two years. To show it was no fluke, Hunter went to USA juniors the next week in Eugene and beat Fisher again in the 1500 (though both lost to Oregon freshman Blake Haney).
Those performances made Fisher, already the top returner from Foot Lockers last year (4th), an overwhelming favorite for the 2015 title and he’s run like it so far in 2015. He owns the nation’s fastest 5k this fall (14:20) as well as the top three speed ratings (a metric used to compare performances across different courses and conditions) in the nation this year, per TullyRunners.com. His best speed rating of 204 came two weeks ago, when he won the Foot Locker South championship by a ridiculous 33-second margin in 14:26. That mark broke Sean McGorty‘s course record of 14:28, a feat made more impressive by the fact that meet management added 70 meters to the course, per MileSplitVA.
If we use Hunter’s pace for his 2015 race and translate it to a course 70 meters shorter, it comes out to 14:14 — a huge improvement on the previous course record. Given Hunter’s dazzling track pbs, his ridiculous 14:20 earlier this season and his utter domination of the FL South field, he enters Saturday as a heavy favorite. He’s the best Virginia runner to come out of Virginia since Alan Webb 15 years ago, and that’s only fitting seeing as his parents used to coach Webb.
Only two boys from the South Region have ever won Foot Lockers, but the last to do it was a pretty impressive one: Reuben Reina, who set the Balboa Park course record of 14:36 in 1985. Considering how fast Hunter has run already, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him chase that record on Saturday. At the very least, we should see Hunter chase sub-15:00, which would put him in elite company:
List of boys to run sub-15:00 at Foot Locker finals since 2008
Lukas Verzbicas, 2010 (14:59)
Edward Cheserek, 2011 (14:52) and 2012 (14:59)
Futsum Zienasellassie, 2011 (14:53)
Phillip Rocha • Senior • Azusa, CA • 4:11.56 1600 • 8:59.42 3200
Regional result: 2nd West, 15:27
Previous FL finishes: none (64th at NXN in ’13 and 11th at NXN in ’14)
College choice: TBD
Major results this fall: 14:32 5k win at Stanford Invitational on 9/26 (won by 20 secs); 14:24 3-mile win at Mt. SAC Invite on 10/24 (won by 13 secs; 1 sec off course record); 13:57 3-mile win at Pacific League finals on 11/5 (won by 40 secs); 14:42 5k win at California Division I state meet (won by 6 secs; fastest time of the day, all divisions)
Rocha has been viewed as the biggest threat to Hunter all fall, but after a season of dominating victories (including a 199 speed rating at the CA state meet, best in the country behind Hunter), Rocha was a surprising second at Foot Locker West last weekend, losing to Utah’s Garek Bielaczyc by six seconds.
While we can’t say how hard Rocha was going, a loss at FL West it does make it unlikely that Rocha will topple Hunter at nationals. Hunter likely could have won FL West without going all-out, so the fact that Rocha could not win (no matter his level of effort) was not a good sign for his title hopes. Then there’s this: since 1997, only one boy — Chad Hall in 2006 — has won Foot Locker finals after failing to win his regional meet.
Garek Bielaczyc • Senior • Salt Lake City, UT • 4:13.00 1600 (at altitude) • 9:11.19 3200 (at altitude)
Regional result: 1st West, 15:21
Previous FL finishes: 27th, 2014
College choice: Texas
Major results this fall: 15:36 5k win at Roy Griak Invitational on 9/26 (won by 16 secs); 15:05 3-mile for 3rd at Utah 4A state meet on 10/21
Bielaczyc’s upset win at Foot Locker West was part of a big weekend for Utah as fellow Beehive Stater Casey Clinger won the NXN title (with a Speed Rating of 200) and three Utah boys’ teams finished in the top 12 at NXN (highlighted by a runner-up finish by Clinger’s American Fork squad). The knock on Bielaczyc is that he didn’t win his state meet — in fact, he wasn’t even second, losing to Alek Parsons (3rd at NXN) and Will Handley (25th at NXN). However, Bielaczyc trains at altitude in Utah, and in his two non-altitude races, he’s performed impressively. His 15:36 at Roy Griak produced a 199 speed rating (only Hunter, Rocha and Ben Veatch have done better), and it came in a race where he beat Jaret Carpenter (4th at NXN) by 16 seconds. Granted, that race was back in September, but when Bielaczyc came down from altitude at FL West, he upset the heavily-favored Rocha. Pulling another upset at Foot Locker finals would be a surprise, but Bielaczyc is certainly in the discussion for second.
Ben Veatch • Senior • Carmel, IN • 4:16.81 mile • 8:53.42 3200
Regional result: 3rd Midwest, 14:57
Previous FL finishes: 14th, 2014
College choice: Indiana
Major results this fall: 1st Indiana state meet (14:59 5k) on 10/31; 2nd NXN Midwest (15:01 5k) on 11/15; 2nd NXN (15:04 5k) on 12/5
Veatch has three losses on the year, but all have come against tough competition (NXN Midwest, FL Midwest, NXN finals). He’s coming off his best race of the year, a runner-up showing at NXN (199 speed rating, tied with Rocha for best behind Hunter) and will look to accomplish (or better) what Olin Hacker pulled off last year: taking second at NXN and Foot Lockers.
Jon Davis • Senior • Oakwood, IL • 4:09.93 1600 • 9:05.23 3200
Regional result: 1st Midwest, 14:57
Previous FL finishes: 37th, 2014
College choice: Illinois
Major results this fall: 1st Illinois 1A state meet (13:59 3-mile) on 11/7; 1st NXN Midwest (14:59 5k) on 11/15; 22nd NXN (15:31 5k) on 12/5
Davis put together a phenomenal string of results in November, beginning with his 13:59 on the historic Detweiller Park layout at the Illinois state meet, joining Craig Virgin, Chris Derrick and Lukas Verzbicas as members of the sub-14:00 club. He followed that up with wins at NXN Midwest and FL Midwest, but all that high-level racing may have taken a toll as he was only 22nd at NXN last weekend. Was that a sign that Davis was past his peak or merely an off race? We’ll find out on Saturday.
Noah Affolder • Junior • Ft. Drum, NY • 4:15.70 1600 • 9:03.89 3200
Regional result: 1st Northeast, 15:23
Previous FL finishes:
College choice: N/A
Major results this fall: 1st McQuaid Invitational (14:14 3-mile) on 10/3; 1st NY Class B state meet (15:57 5k) on 11/14; 22nd NY Federation (all-state) meet (15:46 5k) on 11/21
Of the three regional champs, Affolder has the smallest chance to win. He posted a terrific 14:14 3-mile at the McQuaid Invitational on October 3, but unlike the other three regional champs, he hasn’t toppled major competition (Bielaczyc) or run blazing fast times (Hunter). He didn’t win his state meet, either, falling to Aidan Tooker at the NY Federation Championships. Tooker is a strong runner (2nd at NXN NY, 37th at NXN finals), but if Affolder couldn’t beat him three weeks ago, it’s unlikely he’ll be able to beat the rest of the country in San Diego. Top-five would be a good goal for him.
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Let’s see here. Hunter has run the equivalent of 8:39 for 3200 (converted from 8:42 2 mile), Veatch has run 8:53, Bielaczyc 8:58-9 (converting from 9:11 at altitude), Rocha has run 8:59, Affolder has run 9:03, and Davis 9:05. Those stats favor Hunter in a BIG way.
Let’s see here. In terms of Tully speed rating, where each point represents three seconds over 5k, Hunter has a season-long rating of 203 whereas Rocha, Veatch, Bielaczyc, Affolder and Davis all have a 197. Those stats favor Hunter in a BIG way (18-second margin of victory).
We think the odds are greater that Hunter wins the race by more than 10 seconds than they are that he loses the race. Hunter FTW.
(Related: Discuss the race on our world famous messageboard: MB: Andrew Hunter will win Foot Locker by ___ & when will he leave the pack for second place?)
We want to see how fast of a speed rating he can put up. While Reina is the Foot Locker course record holder, the course ran extremely fast that year. Only four boys have ever put up a speed rating of over 210 at Foot Lockers and they all had FANTASTIC pro careers.
Dathan Ritzenhein – 214 in 2000 and 212 in 1999. Went on to be an NCAA XC champ, American record holder and Olympian. Has run 12:56/27:22/60:00 and 2:07:47.
Adam Goucher – 213 in 1993. Went on to be an NCAA XC and track champ and Olympian. Ran 3:54 mile, 7:34 3000, 13:10 5000.
Chris Solinsky – 212 in 2002. Went on to be an NCAA track champ and American record holder. Has run 12:55/26:59.
Marc Davis – 211 in 1986. Went on to be an NCAA track champ and Olympian (road AR holder). Ran 3:54 mile, 7:38 3000, 8:14 steeple and 13:24 road 5k (AR, since broken by Ben True).
A Few More Stats
- Returners from 2014 Foot Lockers include: Drew Hunter (Purcellville, VA; 4th in ’14), Ben Veatch (Carmel IN; 14th), Jake Brophy (New Hope, PA; 25th), Garek Bielaczyc (Salt Lake City, UT; 27th), Gannon Willcutts (Crozet, VA; 28th), Steven Cross (Merritt Island, FL; 29th) and Jon Davis (Oakwood, IL; 37th)
- Runners pulling the FL/NXN double include Veatch (2nd), Finn Gessner (Madison, WI; 8th), Seth Hirsch (Omaha, NE; 9th), Paul Roberts (Longmont, CO; 11th), Reed Brown (Grapevine, TX; 14) and Davis (22nd)
Thanks to DyeStat TFX for the stats.
Discuss the race on our world famous messageboard:
MB: Andrew Hunter will win Foot Locker by ___ & when will he leave the pack for second place?
MB: Foot Locker predictions
MB: Rocha 2nd at FL west regional…tamagno 24th at NXN. Safe to say Hunter is on top?