By Jonathan Gault
December 6, 2018
Old-timers may not like to admit it, but it is indisputable that, in recent years, Nike Cross Nationals has overtaken Foot Locker Nationals as the premier destination for the USA’s top high school cross country runners. While a trip to San Diego in December may sound nicer than a trip to Portland, competition is what the best of the best crave, and the best competition can be found at NXN. Even through the first half of this decade, Foot Locker still managed to hold on to very top high school talents, at least on the boys side, with Edward Cheserek, Grant Fisher, and Drew Hunter — indisputably the best high school runners during their respective senior years — all opting for FL. But in 2018, the best boys’ and girls’ runners were at NXN, just as they were last year.
That said, there are still some interesting storylines in this year’s Foot Locker championships, particularly on the girls’ side, which features a potential superstar in sophomore Sydney Masciarelli, the Northeast Region champion who is the favorite despite this being her first year of high school cross country. We preview the boys’ and girls’ races at the 40th Foot Locker Cross Country Championships below.
What: 2018 Foot Locker Cross Country Championships
Where: Morley Field at Balboa Park, San Diego, California
When: Saturday, December 8. Girls’ race begins at 12:15 p.m. ET, boys’ race at 1:00 p.m. ET.
How to watch: You can stream the races live for free here beginning at 11 a.m. ET.
Boys’ Race: Cole Hocker favored, but he’ll have to pull off the challenging NXN/FL double
The last two boys’ Foot Locker champions are Reed Brown and Dylan Jacobs. They have two more things in common: neither won their state meet the year they won, and both bounced back from slightly subpar races at NXN to win Foot Locker a week later.
We say “slightly” subpar because Brown and Jacobs were 6th and 13th, respectively, at NXN, and finishing in the top 15 of any national meet is obviously rather impressive. But among boys who tried the NXN/FL double in 2016, Brown was only ranked fifth based on his NXN finish while Jacobs was only ranked third based on NXN finish among boys pulling double duty in 2017.
What does all that mean as we look ahead to the 2018 Foot Locker championships? Well clearly it doesn’t mean that we should pick against someone solely because they ran at NXN; Brown and Jacobs both showed that it’s possible to win FL after doubling back. What it means is that it’s very, very hard for a high school boy to deliver two outstanding performances in eight days at the end of a long cross country season. There’s a reason why only one boy has ever won both NXN and Foot Locker in the same year (Lukas Verzbicas in 2010): at this level, many of the best guys are very close in ability, which means that the winner of a race like NXN or Foot Locker doesn’t necessarily come down to the “best” runner, but rather the runner who runs best on that day. Winning both races either requires a very good runner to run an exceptional race two weeks in a row, or an exceptional runner (such as Verzbicas in 2010) to run a good race two weeks in a row. The latter is easier to accomplish, but the opportunities for such a scenario are rare as in recent years exceptional runners such as Cheserek, Fisher, and Hunter have only run Foot Locker and not NXN. In fact, the NXN champion hasn’t doubled back to run Foot Locker since 2012, when Sam Wharton finished 6th.
This year, the top finisher at NXN doubling back for Foot Locker is senior Cole Hocker of Indiana, who was the runner-up last week. The bad news for Hocker, who has track PRs of 4:08/9:06, is what we wrote above: it can be very hard to produce back-to-back stellar performances. And his NXN performance was certainly stellar as he clocked 15:00.9 to finish second, the second-fastest time ever run on the Glendoveer Golf Course, which has hosted NXN since 2014. That earned him a 199.7 speed rating from Bill Meylan, which is the second-highest in the country this year (only NXN winner Liam Anderson scored higher).
Even if Hocker runs as well as he did last week, that may not be enough to win. Traditionally, it has taken a speed rating of over 200 to win Foot Locker:
But Hocker has several things working in his favor. First, context matters. Those historical ratings are nice, but Hocker won’t be racing any of the guys on that list; he’ll be racing the other 2018 Foot Locker finalists. Also, the quality has really started to slide at Foot Lockers the last two years, and the speed ratings reflect that as Brown and Jacobs produced the two lowest speed ratings by Foot Locker champs in the last 10 years.
In addition, of the runners attempting the NXN/FL double, Hocker was clearly the best in Portland last week: he ran 15:00.9, which was 15.5 seconds ahead of the next-fastest guy in the Foot Locker field (15th placer Josh Methner of Illinois). That’s a nice cushion with which to work — even if Hocker is a little worse and the other guys a little better than they were last week, Hocker could still beat them (though of course he’d still have to deal with all the guys who didn’t run NXN).
We also don’t want to completely ignore what Hocker has done the rest of the season, which has been fantastic. NXN was his only defeat of the year, as he logged impressive wins at both NXR Midwest and FL Midwest (both by six seconds). Even if you throw out his 199.7 speed rating from NXN, he has still logged seven speed ratings this year at 190 or above and five at 192 or above, both of which are tops in the field. Hocker may not be having a historic season like Hunter or Verzbicas, but he could still be good enough to win FL.
One final concern about Hocker: this will be his ninth race in 10 weeks, though it’s debatable how much that matters considering all of these runners are at the end of long seasons.
Who else could win?
We’ve spent a lot of time talking about Hocker so far, and while he is the presumptive favorite, there are certainly some guys in the field who could beat him on Saturday. One of them is Graydon Morris (4:15/9:08) from Texas. He was a surprising second last year as a sophomore, and repeated as Texas 5A state champ this season. While he was only eighth at FL South this year (he was third last year), he posted the same speed rating at FL South this year (189) as he did last year. He has yet to deliver a defining performance this season, but we like betting on big talents and a guy who finished second at FL as a sophomore is most definitely a big talent.
Drew Bosley of Wisconsin (4:08mi/8:59) is another guy who ran well at FL last year, finishing seventh. He was undefeated this fall until finishing second behind Hocker at FL Midwest, and though he was only 23rd at NXN last week, he’s talented enough that it wouldn’t be a surprise if he were to turn the tables on Hocker and beat him (and everyone else) in San Diego.
Kashon Harrison of New Mexico (4:22/9:13) has lost just once all year and last week won the West Regional for the second year in a row. But the West Region is not as strong as it used to be as more than any other region its top runners often are forced to pass up Foot Locker for NXN, in part because FL West is run on the same day as NXN finals. A runner from the West hasn’t won the boys’ title at FL since Chad Hall in 2006 (during that span, all the other regions have produced at least two champions) and Harrison finished only 14th after winning FL West last year.
The Northeast champ, Jack Stanley of New Jersey (4:12/9:12), was only 19th at NXN last week, while the South champ, Cruz Gomez of Texas (4:13/9:13), is ranked just 20th in the field by Meylan based on speed ratings. Josh Methner (4:26/9:06), who was the next-best finisher from NXN after Hocker, could be a factor (though he finished significantly behind Hocker in that race), as could New Jersey’s Devin Hart (4:09/8:58), whom Meylan had second in his pre-race rankings, thanks largely to the 194.0 he put up at the New Jersey state meet, where he beat Stanley. Hart, who was 10th at Foot Locker last year, also has the advantage of resting last week as he did not race NXN.
LRC prediction: Recent history suggests the top guy from NXN won’t also be the top guy at Foot Locker, but Cole Hocker has been so good in 2018 that we’re willing to make an exception. He is our pick FTW.
- 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
Girls’ Preview: Meet Sydney Masciarelli
In December 2017, Sydney Masciarelli had just wrapped up her freshman soccer campaign at Marianapolis Prep in Connecticut and was just starting basketball season. Flash forward a year and she could be your 2018 Foot Locker national champion. That’s how quickly Masciarelli’s running career has taken off.
Masciarelli, who towers over most of her competitors at 5-foot-10 (MileSplit reports she has drawn Division I interest as a basketball prospect), ran cross country in middle school and logged times of 4:58 (mile) and 10:49 (2-mile) last spring on the track. And if she were to win on Saturday, she would be the first girl since Jordan Hasay in 2005 to win FL in her first year running high school cross country.
That outcome is a distinct possibility as Masciarelli has been incredible this fall as a sophomore. Masciarelli began by tearing up a couple of course records in Connecticut before heading to the Mayor’s Cup at Boston’s Franklin Park, where she finished fourth in the championship race which included professionals, a 15-year-old running against women a decade older (because Masciarelli runs at a private school that doesn’t compete against Connecticut public schools, she and her coach have sought out other racing opportunities). Her time? 17:04, the fastest ever by a high school girl on the course (you may have heard of the previous record holder — Shalane Flanagan ran 17:08 back in 1999). For reference, here are what some of the women who finished close to Masciarelli at Mayor’s Cup have done this year:
|Runner||Time||2018 track times|
|Katrina Spratford||16:59||33:28 10k|
|Dylan Hassett||17:12||33:06 10k|
|Rosa Moriello||17:17||15:45 5k|
(Hat tip to messageboard poster Niles for suggesting the comparisons)
Two weeks ago, she ran 17:12 to win Foot Locker Northeast, pulling away late from last year’s FLNE champ Marlee Starliper of Pennsylvania (4:43 mi/10:17) and Grace Connolly of Massachusetts (4:49 mi/10:41 2mi). How fast is that 17:12? Well consider that since FLNE returned to Van Cortlandt Park in 2012, no woman had run faster than 17:32 at FLNE. In fact, Masciarelli’s time is the fastest on the course since Cathy Schiro set the course record of 16:46 way back in 1984. And while Starliper wasn’t too far back (five seconds), reports are that Masciarelli looked very strong pulling away late in what was already an extremely fast race. There is reason to believe we have yet to see her at her best, scary as that is to imagine.
“I feel like I’ve kind of been saving it for this race,” Masciarelli told DyeStat of Foot Locker finals. “In the other races I’ve done this season, I haven’t had to really go all out … but definitely on Saturday, I’m going to go all out.”
Bill Meylan agrees that Masciarelli’s performance was outstanding, as he said it was worth a 160.8 speed rating. Only two other girls have recorded speed ratings in the 160s this year, and both of them just broke 17:00 at NXN last week: Katelyn Tuohy and Kelsey Chmiel. Neither of them will run Foot Locker this weekend. And even though this will be the best field of high school girls Masciarelli has faced all year, she’s actually faced tougher competition than the rest of the field thanks to her runs at Mayor’s Cup and the USATF New England Champs on November 4 (where she ran 20:38 for the 6k course at Franklin Park). She is well prepared for FL finals.
Meylan has Starliper second in his pre-race speed ratings thanks to her big run at FLNE (most years, that 17:17 would make her the favorite at nationals), which earned her a 159.2 speed rating (second-best in the field this year). Starliper will be looking to avoid a repeat of last year, where she won FLNE only to finish 13th in San Diego.
Last year’s runner-up, Katelynne Hart of Illinois (4:45 mi/9:52), also returns, though she was only third at FLMW and 16th at NXN last week (she finished 5th highest at NXN among women attempting the NXN/FL double). The top girl from NXN who is also running Foot Locker is Ohio’s Taylor Ewert (4:57/10:35), who finished third in Portland. Ewert is also an outstanding race walker, as she owns the American junior records in the 3k, 5k, and 10k walk, finishing 10th at the World U20 champs this summer in the latter event. Close behind Ewert at NXN was Emily Covert of Minnesota (4:47/10:06), and though Ewert beat Covert by 3.5 seconds in that race, Covert beat Ewert by 10.6 seconds at FLMW. There’s not much to separate them, and both should contend in San Diego.
Meylan isn’t as high on the other two regional champions, London Culbreath of Texas (South, 4:43 mi, 10:03 2 mi) and Kristin Fahy of California (West. 4:50/10:16), ranking them just 9th and 11th, respectively, based on speed ratings. Culbreath was just 49th at NXN last week, so it’s hard to imagine her winning. Fahy comes from a decorated running family. One of her brothers, Darren, was the 2011 FL West champ (he finished 17th at FL finals) and was the NCAA runner-up in the steeplechase for Georgetown in 2017. Another brother, Steven, has run 13:44 for 5k and was third in the 2018 NCAA steeple final for Stanfrod.
And in case you’re wondering about California’s Claudia Lane, the two-time defending Foot Locker champion? She hasn’t raced since September with an IT band issue, meaning that we’ll have to wait a few years (at least) before we see the first three-time Foot Locker champ.
LRC prediction: Masciarelli, who was ranked #3 in the DyeStat rankings behind Tuohy and Chmiel heading into the postseason, has the highest upside, and based on her performance at Mayor’s Cup and the way she dispatched a pair of top-tier runners in Starliper and Connolly to win FLNE, she should be viewed as the favorite on Saturday. She’s not at Katelyn Tuohy‘s level yet, but after Saturday, U.S. running fans will know her name. Masciarelli FTW.
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Sydney Masciarelli is nearing the end of her first high school cross country season, and he opted out of a #NXN At-Large so she could focus on Foot Locker
— DyeStat (@DyeStat) December 4, 2018