November 29, 2018
*Discuss this race in our high school forum
Since Nike Cross Nationals began (as Nike Team Nationals) back in 2004, no boys’ school has been able to defend its title. Unlike on girls’ side, where New York power Fayetteville-Manlius has claimed 11 of the 14 titles, the 14 boys’ titles have been split among 13 schools; only Arcadia (Calif.) has won more than once, doing so in 2010 and 2012. The closest anyone has come to a repeat came in just the second edition of the meet, when reigning champs York (Ill.) finished second, just 23 points back of champion Saratoga (N.Y.).
But 2018 could finally be the year we see a boys’ team repeat as national champions. Last year, Loudoun Valley (Va.) won with just 89 points — the lowest total in meet history. The Vikings returned four of their top seven from that title team, with the senior duo of Sam Affolder (brother of Syracuse’s Noah) and Jacob Hunter (brother of adidas pro Drew) leading the way.
Individually, there is no overwhelming favorite as in the girls’ race. The contenders include junior Cole Sprout of Valor Christian (Colo.), and seniors Ryan Oosting (Arlington, Mass.), Cole Hocker of Cathedral High School (Indianapolis), and the top returner from last year, Liam Anderson (Redwood HS in Calif.).
Once again, the championships will be held at Portland’s Glendoveer Golf Course. In total, 22 boys’ teams, 22 girls’ teams and 100 individuals will be in the fields on Saturday. The big difference this year is the addition of five extra individual at-large slots per gender. In the past, the only way to qualify for NXN individually was to finish among the top five boys or top five girls at one of the eight NXN regionals or the California state meet.
This means that for the first time, athletes from states such as New York (where the NXN and Foot Locker regionals are held on the same day) can run NXN and Foot Locker. For instance, Jack Stanley, who attends Mendham High School in New Jersey, did not run the NXN NE qualifier on Saturday, choosing to run Foot Locker Northeast instead. He won that race, and NXN decided to give him one of the five at-large bids to NXN.
Obviously this new policy helps Nike because it allows them to bring in athletes who otherwise would not have qualified. But it’s also good for the athletes — in the past, athletes like Stanley would have to pick and choose between NXN and Foot Locker. Now, if they’re truly exceptional, they can run both (although some offered a spot are still skipping NXN). Now it’s time for Foot Locker to do the same and offer FL finals invites to the top five finishers at NXN. As it stands, athletes from the Foot Locker West Region cannot run both meets, as FL West is held on the same day as NXN finals.
Read more in our editorial from last year: LRC NXN/Foot Locker Is Broken — Here’s How to Fix It
We break down what you need to know about the boys’ race below; our girls’ preview, where we discuss Katelyn Tuohy‘s historic 2018 season, can be found here.
When: Saturday, December 1, 2018. Girls’ race at 1:05 p.m. ET, boys’ race at 2:35 p.m. ET.
Where: Glendoveer Golf Course, Portland, Ore.
Boys’ Individuals: An open, exciting race
In recent years, believe it or not, but NXN has overtaken Foot Locker as the place where the best individuals go to race. If you look at Dyestat’s rankings, the entire boys’ top 10 will be racing in Portland this weekend:
- Cole Sprout, Valor Christian (CO): NXN only
- Liam Anderson, Redwood (CA): NXN only
- Ryan Oosting, Arlington (MA): NXN only
- Cole Hocker, Cathedral (IN): NXN & FL
- Easton Allred, Mountain Vista (CO): NXN only
- Drew Bosley, Homestead (WI): NXN & FL
- Evan Holland, Ashland (OR): NXN only
- Nico Young, Newbury Park (CA): NXN only
- Matt Strangio, Jesuit (CA): NXN only
- Jack Stanley, West Morris Mendham (NJ): NXN & FL
Picking a favorite in a race like this can be difficult as the top runners in the country generally don’t face each other until NXN finals. But winning all your races is a good place to start, and there are five guys in the field who have met that criteria in 2018. One of these boys will likely be your 2018 NXN champion. Let’s run through them one-by-one.
Note: in our analysis, we’ll be relying on the speed ratings devised by Bill Meylan to compare performances across different courses in different conditions. For more on speed ratings, look here.
Ryan Oosting, senior
School: Arlington (Arlington, Mass.)
Best speed rating: 197.4 (MA state meet)
Previous national finishes in XC: None
College Choice: Stanford
Last summer, Oosting earned a bronze medal in the 3,000 in the European U18 Championships running for the Netherlands (his mother is Dutch and his father is half Dutch) and this fall he’ll have a chance to earn his first high school national title in cross country. While Oosting has run fast times on the track, before this year he had never even run at Foot Locker or NXN regionals in cross country. As he explained to MileSplit in August, he was injured as a freshman and sophomore (he ran states anyway as a sophomore and finished 139th), and last year he contracted mono. This year, he’s healthy and fit and has been crushing the competition, winning the Massachusetts state meet by 15 seconds over Lucas Aramburu, who last week took second at Foot Locker Northeast.
MB: Ryan Oosting
Liam Anderson, senior
School: Redwood (Larkspur, Calif.)
Best speed rating: 193.6 (CA state meet)
Previous national finishes in XC: 22nd at NXN in 2016, 3rd in 2017
College Choice: Stanford
Anderson was very good as a junior in 2017, winning the California Division III state title and taking 3rd at NXN, and has been even better in 2018, repeating as CA state champ in 14:55 (15 seconds faster than his winning time last year) and winning every race he’s entered. He’s the only one of the top six finishers from NXN last year to return in 2018. Also worth noting: his speed rating at NXN last year (199.5) is better than anything anyone else has put up nationally this year.
Cole Hocker, senior
School: Cathedral (Indianapolis, Ind.)
Best speed rating: 194.9 (Foot Locker Midwest)
Previous national finishes in XC: None
Hocker has put up two big-time wins in the last three weeks, claiming the title at NXN Midwest on November 11 and defeating Drew Bosley (at the time #3 in the Dyestat national rankings) to win FL Midwest last weekend. His top speed rating of 194.9, attained last week, trails only Oosting and Cole Sprout.
Cole Sprout, junior
School: Valor Christian (Highlands Ranch, Colo.)
Best speed rating: 196.6 (CO state meet)
Previous national finishes in XC: 21st at 2017 NXN
Sprout’s best speed rating of 196.6, achieved at the Colorado 5A state meet, where he ran 15:16 to win by 24 seconds, puts him #2 on the 2018 list behind only Oosting. In his last race, at NXN Southwest on November 17, he won in 14:39 — 11 seconds faster than last year’s eventual NXN champ Aidan Troutner ran at the same meet. And unlike Oosting and Hocker, he has previous NXN experience, taking 21st last year as a sophomore. Fun fact: he attends Valor Christian, which is the same high school that produced Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey.
Evan Holland, junior
School: Ashland (Ashland, Ore.)
Best speed rating: 192.5 (NXN Northwest)
PRs: 3:54/8:26 (1500/3000)
Previous national finishes in XC: None
Neither Meylan (who had 12 guys with a better speed rating than Holland this year) nor Dyestat (who had Holland 8th in their November 15 rankings) are putting Holland on the same level as the Oosting/Anderson/Hocker/Sprout quartet. But just like them, he hasn’t lost a race all season and, only a junior, he is full of potential. Saturday could be a breakout race for him.
Other guys to watch on Saturday include Foot Locker Northeast champ Jack Stanley; NXN Heartland champ Drew Bosley, who was seventh at both Foot Lockers and NXN last year (he’s the #2 returner) and was undefeated this year until finishing second behind Hocker at FL Midwest last week; and NXN Southeast champ Charles Hicks (9th at NXN last year).
Boys’ Teams: The case for why Loudoun Valley will repeat (and the case for why they won’t)
A close team race is expected on both the boys’ and girls’ sides at NXN this year. Bill Meylan’s “morning line” projections have the top three girls’ teams separated by just six points, and it’s even closer on the boys’ side, with just two points between the top three. His boys’ top five projections are listed below:
Overall Morning-Line Team Scores - Boys 1 Loudoun Valley VA 128 (Southeast) 2 Great Oak CA 129 (California) 3 Fayetteville-Manlius NY 130 (New York) 4 West Ranch CA 192 (California) 5 Newbury Park CA 196 (California)
The top three team names should be familiar to anyone who follows high school cross country as they represent three of the last four boys’ national champions: LV won last year, Great Oak won in 2015, and F-M won in 2014 (and was second last year). Those three schools also sit 1-2-3 (in the same order) in Dyestat’s national rankings. So while anything can happen in one race, this will likely be a three-horse race.
Let’s start with Loudoun Valley, since they’re coming off one of the greatest seasons in the history of high school cross country (when you set a record for the all-time lowest score at NXN, you get to be included with the all-time greats although we should point out that both last year and this they’ve benefitted greatly from getting some studly transfers). And they’ve picked up in 2018 where they left off in 2017: in the Dyestat rankings, they’ve been ranked #1 all season long. Let’s see how their 2018 results stack up against their performances at some of the same races in 2017:
|Meet||2018 meet date||2017 team score||2018 team score|
|Great American XC Festival||October 6||62||64|
|VA 4A Region C||October 31||19||15|
|VA 4A state meet||November 10||15||16|
|NXN Southeast||November 24||72||52|
This isn’t a perfect comparison as not all of LV’s runners ran at every meet — their top returner from NXN last year, Sam Affolder, did not race until the region meet — but LV was at full strength at states (where they were just one point off their 2017 score) and NXN SE (where they scored 20 fewer points than last year). Everything appears to be clicking heading into the biggest race of the year.
LV brings back four of its top seven from last year’s title team, led by Affolder (23rd at NXN last year) and Jacob Hunter (43rd). But the bellwether for this team may be junior Carlos Shultz. Shultz, like Affolder last year, transferred to LV at the start of this year and made an immediate impact. At the PTXC meet in September, he finished second (behind Hunter) as both guys beat New Jersey’s Jack Stanley — the same guy who just won Foot Locker NE last week. And at Great American in October, Shultz was LV’s top guy (7th overall), though Affolder did not run in that race. However, atNXN SE, however, Shultz was only their fifth man (22nd overall), but LV still scored an impressive 52 points.
Shultz’s 185.3 speed rating at Great American gives LV three guys with a top speed rating of 185 or higher this year (Affolder and Hunter are the others), something achieved by only one other school in 2018. If he runs to his potential, LV will be tough to beat.
But make no mistake, LV can be beaten. F-M had three guys at 185 or higher at NXN NY (seniors Garrett Brennan and Sam Otis and junior Geoff Howles), and at the NY state meet, their entire top five posted scores of 180 or higher. Great Oak matched that feat at the California state meet last weekend. Clearly both F-M and Great Oak are running extremely well right now. And both have NXN experience in their lineups — three of Great Oak’s top seven from last year will race NXN again in 2018, while F-M brings back five of its top seven from last year’s NXN runner-up (including three of its top four).
Based on Meylan’s speed ratings, LV has the advantage at the #1 spot — Affolder’s overall speed rating (a number produced by Meylan based on all of his results this season) of 190.5 is better than F-M’s Brennan (188.1) and Great Oak’s Tyler Tickner (187.5). But it’s reversed at #5, where LV’s Shultz has the lowest overall speed rating (179.5) among those three teams, compared to F-M’s Peyton Geehrer (180.0) and Great Oak’s Chris Verdugo (181.5, 101st at NXN last year). That’s why Shultz is so important — if he’s close to Affolder and Hunter, he could give LV the boost they need to repeat as champions.
Looking past the top five, F-M’s projected #6 and #7 have overall speed ratings of 170.5 and 157.5, compared to 175.4 and 174.5 for Great Oak and 175.5 and 173.3 for LV. So Great Oak and LV appear better situated to absorb a bad day from one of their top five.
But really, the numbers say this is anyone’s race. This year, more than ever, every runner counts.
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