2016 NXN Boys’ Preview: Casey Clinger Looks to Make History & Lead American Fork (UT) to Its First National Title
November 30, 2016
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The boys’ race at the 2016 Nike Cross Nationals championship figures to be one of the best in meet history. Individually, the meet is stacked with talent — six of the top seven boys in Dyestat’s top 10 will be in Portland, including consensus No. 1 Casey Clinger, who will try to become the first boy to win two individual NXN titles. Teamwise, there’s little to separate the top squads. Clinger’s American Fork (UT) squad was second last year and have a historically great top three runners, while Neuqua Valley (IL) has insane depth. Then there’s defending champs Great Oak (CA), who are in contention again despite graduating all five scorers from last year.
Once again, the championships will be held at Portland’s Glendoveer Golf Course. The meet shifted to Glendoveer in 2014 after 10 years at Portland Meadows. In total, 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) will be in the fields on Saturday. We break down what you need to know heading into Saturday’s meet. Our boys’ preview appears below; you can read our girls’ preview here.
When: Saturday, December 3. Girls’ race at 1:05 p.m. ET, boys’ race at 2:35 p.m. ET.
Where: Glendoveer Golf Course, Portland, Ore.
How to watch: Stream the meet live for free here (coverage starts at 12:30 p.m. ET)
NXN and Foot Lockers have competed for the nation’s top talent ever since NXN expanded to allow individuals in 2008. Every year, the nation’s consensus No. 1 boys runner has run Foot Lockers (though Lukas Verzbicas doubled up and ran both in 2010). That will likely not be the case in 2016, however, as Casey Clinger, the No. 1 in both Dyestat and MileSplit‘s national rankings will be running NXN only (as we noted above, his team, American Fork, is ranked No. 1 nationally and Foot Locker West is on the same day as NXN finals). We think FL should automatically accept the top few finishers from NXN (in the past, the top two FL West region finishers from NXN to Foot Lockers), but until that policy changes, guys like Clinger are forced to choose. And we certainly can’t blame him for wanting to win a team title.
Behind Clinger, most of the top talent on the boys’ side will be at NXN. Here’s a look at where the Dyestat top 10 will be competing in the postseason:
- Casey Clinger, American Fork (UT): NXN only
- Noah Affolder, Carlisle (PA): FL only
- David Principe, Jr., La Salle (RI): NXN only
- Finn Gessner, Madison La Follette (WI): NXN and FL
- Seth Hirsch, Millard West (NE): NXN and FL
- Brodey Hasty, Brentwood (TN): NXN only
- Cooper Teare, St. Joseph Notre Dame (CA): NXN only
- Soren Knudsen, Minooka (IL): no postseason
- Sam Worley, Comal Canyon (TX): NXN and FL
- Luis Grijalva, Armijo (CA): FL (still needs to qualify at FL West)
So of the nine boys running in the postseason, seven (including six of the top seven) will be at NXN and five (four if Grijalva fails to qualify) will be at Foot Lockers. NXN is definitely the stronger meet this year according to Dyestat.
However, the site we trust most for our high school analysis is TullyRunners.com. Tully is a site that assigns “speed ratings” to performances achieved at dozens of meets around the country. These speed ratings are inexact, but they’re meant to compare performances achieved on different courses and different weather and generally Tully does a very good job with it. Under the Tully system, each point equals three seconds in a 5k race so someone ranked at 202 would beat a 197 runner by 15 seconds.
Judging by each athlete’s highest Tully speed rating, NXN is still definitely stronger than Foot Locker as NXN features five boys with a rating of 198 or higher whereas the highest rating recorded at any of the three Foot Locker regional races was just 196.
According to MileSplit and Dyestat, the defending champ, Casey Clinger (1:52 800, 4:05 mile, 8:51 2-mile) who won the NXN individual title last year as a junior, is the favorite, but the highest Tully speed rating belongs to Rhode Island senior David (DJ) Principe, Jr. (La Salle Academy, 17th last year with pbs of 4:07 for the mile and 8:51 for 3200), who posted a 202 in smashing the Bowdoin Park course record last week with his 15:18 clocking. In fact, Principe (who will run at Stanford next fall) owns the top three speed ratings this fall per TullyRunners.com, as he also posted 199’s at the Rhode Island state meet on November 6 (14:56 5k, won by 57 seconds) and the Bowdoin Park Classic on September 24 (15:23 5k, won by 43 seconds).
Principe, however, is not undefeated on the year as he lost to Brentwood, Tennessee’s Brodey Hasty (7th last year, #2 returner, 4:09 mile, 9:01 3200) at the Great American XC Festival in North Carolina on October 1. That race was the highlight of the regular season, as Hasty (14:32.2) barely edged out Principe (14:32.4) as they posted the two fastest 5ks of the fall. Obviously Hasty is a serious threat to win, as are Wisconsin’s Finn Gessner (9:01 3200) and Nebraska’s Seth Hirsch (9:12 3200, 14:55 5000), future Wisconsin teammates who finished 8th and 9th, respectively, at NXN last year. Though the two have faced each other twice in the last three weeks, we’ve yet to see what they can do all-out: they crossed the line together at NXN Heartland and both simply ran to qualify last week at FL Midwest.
Other contenders include California Division V state champ Cooper Teare (4:06 mile, 8:51 3200), FL South champ Sam Worley of Texas (1:50, 4:04, 8:51 at 8, 16 and 3200) and FL Midwest champ Dylan Jacobs (Sandburg, IL). Jacobs is a junior who ran 4:15/9:19 as a sophomore.
Below, we’ve listed the top 10 individuals based on their best 2016 Tully speed rating.
Name Grade School State Rating Region -------------------- ----- ------------------- ----- ------- --------- David Principe Jr 12 La Salle Academy RI 202 Northeast ** Individual Finn Gessner 12 Madison La Follette WI 199 Heartland ** Individual Seth Hirsch 12 Millard West NE 199 Heartland ** Individual Casey Clinger 12 American Fork UT 198 Southwest Brodey Hasty 11 Brentwood TN 198 Southeast Dylan Jacobs 11 Sandburg IL 196 Midwest ** Individual Jack Aho 12 Grayslake Central IL 196 Midwest ** Individual Danny Kilrea 12 Lyons Township IL 195 Midwest ** Individual Michael Vernau 12 Davis Senior CA 195 California ** Individual James Mwaura 11 Lincoln Senior WA 195 Northwest ** Individual
American Fork (UT) High School, located just south of Salt Lake City, has boasted one of the United States’ top cross country programs for the past decade. The Cavemen, as they are known, have finished in the top 8 at NXN in each of the past seven years — including runner-up finishes in 2012 and 2015 — and have been ranked No. 1 in the country all season long by Dyestat. The only thing that coach Timo Mostert hasn’t won during his tenure at AF is a national title, but 2016 represents his best chance yet. The team’s 15:18 3-mile average at the Utah state meet on October 19 went down as the fastest in meet history.
American Fork is of course led by the defending individual champ, but Clinger, who has narrowed his college choices to BYU and Oregon, isn’t the only stud on this team. McKay Johns (31st ’15 NXN, 1:53 800, 4:10 mile, 9:05 3200) and Patrick Parker (47th ’15 NXN, 1:53 800, 4:06 mile, 9:04 3200) join Clinger to form the nation’s best front three, and they’ve gone 1-2-3 in that order (Clinger, Johns, Parker) five times this fall, most impressively at the NXN Southwest Regional on November 19. That’s a massively impressive accomplishment as the Southwest is one of the country’s toughest regions. Last year, four of the top 12 boys’ teams came out of the Southwest and in Dyestat’s latest national rankings (November 24), there were four Southwest squads in the top 18.
At the Utah state meet on October 19, Clinger broke his own course record, running 14:42 for the 3-mile course. But Johns’ time (14:49) was actually the second-fastest in course history — quicker than Utah studs Luke Puskedra and Ben Saarel ever ran, and faster than Clinger ran last year prior to winning NXN. Parker was only 11 seconds behind Johns in 15:00. American Fork doesn’t just have the best 1-2-3 in the country; it has one of the best 1-2-3’s of all time.
Still, the Cavemen are not runaway favorites. At the Southwest Regional, #4 man Carson Clinger (Casey’s younger brother, 4:34/10:05) was 42nd, 50 seconds behind Parker. That’s fine considering how good AF’s top 3 are, but #5 man Dalton Brems (4:36/10:07) was an additional 45 seconds behind Carson Clinger, finishing in 114th place. That gap simply has to come down if AF is to win. Here’s where the winning team’s fifth man has finished at NXN in the past five years:
2015: 86th (46th in team scoring, 114 winning score)
2014: 96th (55th in team scoring, 111 winning score)
2013: 103rd (62nd in team scoring, 111 winning score)
2012: 80th (50th in team scoring, 108 winning score)
2011: 72nd (36th in team scoring, 91 winning score)
There’s good news and bad news for American Fork on that front. The good news is that AF’s front three should give Brems more margin for error than most number five men. The other good news is that 45 seconds was easily the biggest gap between AF’s #4 and #5 that it has had all year (see table below). The bad news?
|Date||Meet||Carson Clinger||Dalton Brems||Gap|
|September 10||Wasatch Invite||4th, 17:27||12th, 17:50||23 secs|
|September 17||Viking Invite||8th, 15:59||9th, 16:01||2 secs|
|September 24||Nebo Invite||13th, 16:10||16th, 16:19||9 secs|
|October 7||UT Region 4 Champs||10th, 15:40||15th, 15:56||16 secs|
|October 19||UT 5A state meet||14th, 15:47||23rd, 16:10||23 secs|
|November 19||NXN SW||42nd, 16:02||114th, 16:47||45 secs|
The gap has been getting bigger. While you could argue that the gap has been growing because Carson Clinger has been improving, the gap from the front three to Clinger has remained relatively constant throughout the season. The bigger issue is likely larger fields and better competition, and there’s no high school meet with better competition than NXN. That’s a lot of pressure for Brems, a sophomore, to handle. How he runs in Portland could well determine the outcome on Saturday.
So who else could win? Well Neuqua Valley (IL), who won the title back in 2007 when Chris Derrick was a senior, are ranked No. 2 in the nation by Dyestat and are in effect American Fork’s opposite. Neuqua Valley’s #1 at the Midwest Regional, Jackson Jett (9:35 for 3200), was only 18th overall, but their spread was just 17 seconds with #6 and #7 a further 3 and 11 seconds back, respectively. At the Illinois 3A state meet on November 5, it was a similar story: Jett first in 8th overall, with a 22-second spread and small gaps to #6 (0 seconds) and #7 (9 seconds). NV’s top guys also ran Foot Locker Midwest last week, and none came close to qualifying: Zachary Kinne (9:45 for 3200) was their top finisher in 45th place (though with NXN a week away, it’s fair to wonder if they left something in reserve).
The challenge faced by NV is the reverse of American Fork: can its depth offset the lack of a low stick up front? Take a look at how the national champ’s top man has fared over the past five years.
|Year||Team||Top man at regionals||Top man at nationals|
|2015||Great Oak (CA)||3rd*||15th|
|2013||Gig Harbor (WA)||8th||6th|
|2011||Christian Brothers (NJ)||5th||23rd|
*California does not have an official NXN regional, instead the team’s California state meet results were used
NV has two foreseeable paths to victory: either Jett runs a terrific race and finishes in the top 15 overall, or they follow the 2011 CBA game plan. That year, CBA’s top man was only 23rd, but their top five all finished in the top 72; their winning score of 91 was actually the lowest in meet history on the boys’ side.
Defending champion Great Oak (CA) lost its entire top five from last year but somehow is in contention for a repeat title after winning the California Division I state meet last weekend with 66 points (they scored 43 prior to last year’s NXN victory). No boys team has ever repeated at NXN. Brentwood (TN) is also dangerous. The Bruins have one of the country’s top runners in the aptly-named Brodey Hasty (7th ’15 NXN), whom we talked about above and whose only loss this fall came to a teammate at Brentwood’s state qualifier, and Brentwood won the Southeast Regional handily, 66-104 over St. Xavier (KY). Bozeman (MT) crushed the field at the Northwest Regional, winning by 105 points, and finished 8th at NXN last year. The Hawks were also boosted by the return of Orrin Clark (their #5 at NXN last year, 4:48/10:10), who was 46th at the Northwest Regional after missing a few weeks with a knee injury. If Clark has made progress in the three weeks since regionals, Bozeman could be in with a chance.
In each of the past two years, Tully’s pre-race projections have correctly called both the boys’ and girls’ team champs. So who is Tully projecting this year?
Overall Morning-Line Team Scores - Boys 1 Neuqua Valley IL 198 (Midwest ) 2 American Fork UT 199 (Southwest ) 3 Great Oak CA 204 (California) 4 Brentwood TN 206 (Southeast ) 5 Bozeman MT 212 (Northwest )
As you can see, there’s not much between Neuqua Valley and American Fork — or the rest of the top five, for that matter. That should make for a great race on Saturday.
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