(05-Dec) — Saturday’s tenth edition of Nike Cross Nationals (NXN), one of two high school cross country national championships in the United States, presents some interesting and exciting story-lines. Race Results Weekly breaks down ten things to watch out for as some of the nation’s best prep harriers race 5 kilometers through Portland Meadows Race Track.
1. The top storyline is the battle between two-time defending champion Sarah Baxter, Washington standout Alexa Efraimson, and Colorado champion Elise Cranny. Each has outstanding credentials: Baxter won her fourth consecutive California state title last weekend, joining the likes of Jordan Hasay and Sara Hall as the only four-time girls cross country champions in state history. Efraimson not only has shown prowess on the high school circuit (she won the NXN Northwest regional and BorderClash titles), but has also done so against collegiate competition, winning the University of Oregon’s Bill Dellinger Invitational over Boise State All-American Emma Bates (who would finish second at the NCAA Championships). Not to be overlooked is Cranny, this year’s New Balance Nationals Indoor mile champion and NXN Southwest winner; she is coached by elite marathoner Jason Hartmann. This could be the strongest girl’s podium in the history of NXN.
2. For seven straight years, Fayetteville-Manlius of Upstate New York has won the girls team title at NXN. This year they go for their eighth in a row, led by junior Annika Avery (the NXN New York victor) and senior Alana Pearl. Though the Bill Aris-coached team has looked strong recently –winning their regional by 56 points– they could be challenged by Great Oak of California and Wayzata of Minnesota.
3. It seems like New Jersey’s Christian Brothers Academy is always at the top of the rankings come championship time. Having won the New Jersey Meet of Champions and Manhattan Invitational this year, CBA finds themselves currently number one in Dyestat’s most recent boys poll. They look to improve upon a disappointing fourth-place showing at NXN last year. Senior Mike McClemens is their fastest runner, followed by fellow senior Tom Rooney and sophomore Blaise Ferro.
4. The race for the boys individual title could be a toss-up, though Denver East senior Cerake Geberkidane is likely the favorite going in. Boasting a big smile, Geberkidane was featured in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces In The Crowd” earlier this season and won the NXN Southwest by five seconds. If Geberkidane is challenged, it may be by Estevan De La Rosa –a senior at defending champion Arcadia High School and second overall in 2012– or Tanner Anderson, a junior at North Central (Wash.) High and the Northwest region champ.
5. At first glance, Gig Harbor of Washington looks like any other solid program. They won the Washington 4A State title and claimed the NXN Northwest regional by more than 50 points. Unlike most teams, though, they have two professional athletes helping their team. Elite 800m runner Mark Wieczorek (personal best of 1:45.36, 2012 Olympic Trials finalist) is Gig Harbor’s head coach, while world renowned pace-setter Matt Scherer help’s out with the team. That elite expertise could help Gig Harbor take down Christian Brothers Academy for the title.
6. If you’re a marathon fan watching NXN, you may recognize some familiar names. Addison DeHaven, son of American Olympic marathoner Rod DeHaven, is competing, as is Katie Rainsberger, daughter of Lisa Rainsberger (nee Larsen Weidenbach), the last American woman to win the Boston Marathon in 1985. DeHaven has a strong chance of winning and is coming off a win at the NXN Heartland Regional (he has also qualified for next weekend’s Foot Locker Cross Country National Championships in San Diego, Calif.). Rainsberger was third at the NXN Southwest regional last month.
7. In past years, course conditions have played a major factor at NXN. In 2012, the course was so muddy that the winning times were onlyfor Boys (Sam Wharton) and for Girls (Sarah Baxter). This year, Weather.com is predicting a high temperature of 28F for race day, something that could come into play. As of now, it appears there is no rain in the forecast.
8. The Foot Locker West Regional will also be held, meaning some of the top names from California, Washington, and Idaho will be missing from the Boys NXN race. Among those opting for the Foot Locker Championships are Matthew Maton, Joe Hardy, Tal Braude, and Elijah Armstrong. Look for others to step up and become a factor with these four names out of the mix.
9. Speaking of the Foot Locker Cross Country National Championships, some athletes are pulling double duty — racing NXNthen traveling to San Diego for the FLCC race one week later in historic Balboa Park. Among those doing so are Jesse Reiser (McHenry, Ill.), Kelcy Welch (Carmel, IN), Taylor Werner (Ste. Genevieve, MO), Ben Barrett (Norman North, OK), Addison DeHaven (Brookings, SD), Natalie Rathjen (Highland Park, TX), Devin Clark (Smithson Valley, TX), and Frank Lara (Strake Jesuit, TX).
10. Sadly, for the first time in NXN history, the boys of York (Ill.) High School and famed coach Joe Newton will not be racing at Portland Meadows. York had qualified for nine straight NXN Championships, though this year fell short, finishing sixth at the NXN Midwest meet. Nathan Mroz, a senior at York, did however qualify as an individual.