2019 Foot Locker Preview: Josh Methner vs. 4-Time Qualifier Graydon Morris & A Wide-Open Girls’ Race

By Jonathan Gault
December 12, 2019

The Nike Cross Nationals may have surpassed the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships in some areas, but one category in which Foot Locker remains king is history. Saturday will mark the 41st edition of the famous race, which makes Foot Locker more than twice as old as NXN. The Balboa Park course is the same one that Bob Kennedy raced in the 1980s, that Adam Goucher and Meb Keflezighi raced in the 1990s, that Jordan Hasay and Jenny Simpson raced in the 2000s. The list of champions, from Kennedy to Dathan Ritzenhein to Sara Hall, reads like running royalty.

This weekend, two more athletes will add their names to that list as the high school XC season draws to its traditional close in San Diego. In the boys’ race, NXN runner-up Josh Methner (Notre Dame signee) will look to go one better and close out a historic season with a Foot Locker title over four-time qualifier Graydon Morris (Texas signee) and the rest of the field. Meanwhile, the girls’ race is one of the most competitive in years, with tons of talent — including defending champ Sydney Masciarelli — but no clear favorite. Let’s take a deeper look at each race.

What: 2019 Foot Locker Cross Country Championships
Where: Morley Field at Balboa Park, San Diego, California
When: Saturday, December 14. 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.
*2018 FL Finals results * 2019 FL Regionals results *All LRC 2018 FL coverage

2019 Foot Locker Discussion on Our World Famous Messageboard

Boys’ Preview: Josh Methner Looks to Follow in Footsteps of 2018 Champ Cole Hocker

Last year, Cole Hocker won every one of his races until NXN — including NXR Midwest and FL Midwest — then finished second at NXN before bouncing back the following week to win Foot Locker. This year, another runner from the Midwest, Illinois’ Josh Methner, has followed the same path. Like Hocker, Methner won all of his regular-season races, then won NXR Midwest and FL Midwest, and last week finished second at NXN. Now he’ll attempt to go “full Hocker” and win Foot Locker on Saturday.

Methner en route to a runner-up finish at NXN last week (Courtesy Hersey Boys’ XC)

Hocker was the clear favorite in 2018 not just for his regular-season body of work, but for his outstanding run at NXN. That’s also the case with Methner this year. While Methner ran 13:49 to break Craig Virgin‘s legendary Detweiller Park course record at the Illinois state meet, that wasn’t his best performance of the season, according to Tully Runners’ Bill Meylan, creator of the fabled speed ratings. Meylan was more impressed by Methner’s runner-up finish at NXN last weekend, which garnered him a speed rating of 200 — the highest by anyone in the 2019 FL field all season.

Last week, Methner and Ryan Schoppe (not running FL) were the only guys to make a concerted effort to try to chase Nico Young at NXN. Even though they were ultimately unsuccessful — Young was just too good — Methner’s second-place finish showed guts and talent (Schoppe faded to 15th). He’s a deserving favorite at NXN. But he’s not the only guy who could win.

Of the runners attempting the NXN/FL double, New Jersey’s Liam Murphy (8th at NXN) is the only other one with a realistic shot of winning FL as he and Methner were the only boys to finish in the top 15. Murphy was only 5.9 seconds behind Methner in Portland — certainly a deficit that could be overturned one week later.

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If Murphy has a shot, so too do Northeast Region rivals Patrick AndersonGavin Sherry, who went 1-2 at FLNE (Murphy was 3rd). One other guy who should be mentioned is New Jersey’s Jack Jennings. He beat Murphy back at the NJ Group 3 champs on November 16, and his 199 speed rating in that race was the second-best of anyone at FL this year. But Jennings hasn’t been the same since (he was only 14th at the NJ MOC and 44th at NXN), so he’ll need a major turnaround if he is to contend on Saturday.

The guy with the best chance to topple Methner is Texas’ Graydon Morris. Morris is already a Foot Locker legend: by making it to San Diego in 2019, he joined Jorge Torres as the only boys to qualify for Foot Lockers four times (DyeStat’s Dave Devine has a nice profile of Morris here). Torres went 13th-5th-2nd in his first three FL appearances before winning it all as a senior and then going on to a great post-HS career (eventual NCAA XC champion and Olympian). In his first three years, Morris has been 34th, 2nd, and 3rd.

There are several reasons why this is Morris’ best shot yet at taking home the title. First, Morris is the top returner from last year, ahead of Michigan’s Carter Solomon (4th) and Methner (6th). Yes, Morris was also the top returner in 2018, but he was also hampered by injuries throughout the season and was happy just to finish in the top five.

Second, Morris has been way better in 2019 than any of his previous HS seasons. Check out the table below (speed rating in parentheses).

Year TX 5A State Meet FL South FL Finals
2016 3rd, 15:15 (183) 7th, 15:06 (190) 34th, 15:51 (186)
2017 1st, 14:58 (188) 3rd, 15:05 (189) 2nd, 15:23 (197)
2018 1st, 15:04 (184) 8th, 15:12 (189) 3rd, 15:25 (196)
2019 1st, 14:33 (193) 3rd, 15:01 (193) ???

Morris’ 14:33 at the Texas state meet would have set the course record had Ryan Schoppe not run 14:14 on the same day. And though he was only 3rd at FL South, he posted his fastest FL South time and speed rating in that race. Considered he finished 2nd and 3rd at FL Finals in 2017 and 2018 and was only 3rd and 8th at FL South those years, another 3rd-place finish in 2019 shouldn’t be concerning.

One more thing working in Morris’ favor: his 2-mile pb of 8:50 is easily the fastest in the FL field (Methner’s best is 9:02 for 3200). That doesn’t prove anything by itself, but it’s a reminder of how talented he is.

JG prediction: I expect this to come down to Methner and Morris, and I’m going with Methner — if he runs like he did a week ago at NXN, he will win this race. But we may not have seen the best of Morris yet this year, and that is scary. One x-factor: this will be Methner’s eighth race in nine weeks, and his third straight against top competition (FL Midwest, NXN, FL Finals). Morris, by comparison, will be well-rested: he didn’t race last week, and FL Finals will be just his third race since October 17.

Girls’ Preview: Good Luck Figuring This One Out

Usually when the defending champion is in the field, they’re the clear favorite. But that’s not the case in 2019, even though junior Sydney Masciarelli of Massachusetts is returning after a dramatic victory in 2018.

Masciarelli was beaten convincingly two weeks ago at FL Northeast by Pennsylvania’s Marlee Starliper (NC State signee). Then Starliper was beaten convincingly at NXN last week by Ohio’s Taylor Ewert (Arkansas signee) as Ewert was second in 17:19.1 and Starliper fifth in 17:35.9. Including Masciarelli, the top four finishers from FL last year are returning. So really, we have no idea what’s going to happen on Saturday.

That said, let’s run through some of the top contenders to see why they will — and won’t — win in San Diego.

Masciarelli and Hart battled it out all the way to the finish line in 2018

Sydney Masciarelli, junior, Northbridge, Mass.
PRs: 10:11 2-mile, 16:16 5k (track)

Why she will win: She’s the defending champion.

Why she won’t win: While Masciarelli has been good in 2019, she hasn’t been as good as last year. She finished 15 seconds behind Starliper at FLNE and was also beaten during the season by Margot Appleton at Mayor’s Cup in Boston, where Masciarelli ran 14 seconds slower than last year (Appleton was 6th at FL NE and is in this field).

Marlee Starliper, senior, Wellsville, Penn.
4:37 1600, 9:54 3200

Why she will win: Starliper’s 162.80 speed rating at Foot Locker Northeast — where she ran 17:03.6, the second-fastest time in meet history — was the fastest by anyone in this year’s FL field (her 161.37 at the Pennsylvania state meet was #3) and is nearly identical to what Katelyn Tuohy put up at NXN (162.87). Her best may be better than everyone else’s best.

Why she won’t win: Starliper was beaten last week at NXN, finishing 5th, 16 seconds behind Taylor Ewert.

Taylor Ewert, senior, Dayton, Ohio
PRs: 4:48 mile, 10:19 2-mile

Why she will win: In finishing 2nd at NXN last week, Ewert came closer than anyone in the last three years to beating Katelyn Tuohy in a high school cross country race. That performance earned her a 162.63 speed rating — barely behind Starliper’s 162.80 at FLNE.

Why she won’t win: Since NXN began in 2004, no girl has run NXN and then won Foot Lockers the next week. Ewert is also 0-3 this season against the next woman on this list.

Zofia Dudek, senior, Ann Arbor, Mich.
PRs: 4:41 mile, 10:07 3200

Why she will win: Dudek has beaten Ewert all three times they raced in 2019 and has just one loss on the season, finishing second to Abby VanderKooi at FL Midwest.

Why she won’t win: Representing Poland, Dudek finished 5th in the U20 race at the European XC champs on Sunday in Lisbon. Running two elite races almost 6,000 miles apart in less than a week could be tough.

Abby VanderKooi, sophomore, Fremont, Mich.
4:56 1600, 10:04 3200

Why she will win: With Ewert, Dudek, and Katelynne Hart, the two-time FL runner-up, the Midwest was the toughest of the four FL regions, and VanderKooi was the Midwest champion.

Why she won’t win: Aside from her FLMW win, VanderKooi hasn’t posted any incredible speed ratings this year.

Katelynne Hart, senior, Glen Ellyn, Ill.
PRs: 4:38 1600, 9:52 3200

Why she will win: Hart has finished 2nd at the past two FL Finals, last year by an agonizing 0.7 of a second to Masciarelli (Hart’s time of 17:01 would have been good enough to win 15 of the previous 16 editions). The University of Michigan signee also has the fastest 3200/2-mile PR in the field, at 9:52.

Why she won’t win: Hart was only 50th at NXN last weekend. The good news is that she wasn’t great at NXN last year either (16th) but was still in contention to win FL until the final strides.

JG prediction: With so many contenders, this should be a terrific race to watch. I’ll go with Ewert — again, she almost beat Katelyn f—ing Tuohy last week — to make it a sweep for the NXN runners-up at Foot Locker.

PS by LetsRun.com. While only two boys have ever qualified for 4 Foot Lockers, 25 girls have achieved the feat including Pennsylvania’s Taryn Parks this year. Parks who was 40th, 36th and 27th the last three years, was 11th at the NE Regional but after Mia Cochran pulled out with a hip injury, Parks was added as an alternate. Mega props to FL to adding Parks in and for Cochran bowing out for injury.

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