The 2009 Foot Locker Cross Country Championships will take place Saturday at a wet Balboa Park in San Diego, Calif. As has become customary over the past few years, the usually dry San Diego weather will take a vacation for the weekend of the championships, leaving the top high school runners in the country to deal with what many consider true cross country conditions. Along with the mud and hills of Morley Field, the competitors will have to be prepared for some fierce competition on Saturday. Following are the top contenders for this year’s national championship crowns.
Written By: Sean McKeon
Craig Lutz, Junior, Flower Mound, TX – The 2009 Nike Cross Country Nationals champion looks to become the first individual to win both titles in the same year. Lutz won the Nike title by out-kicking two other competitors over the homestretch, which proves he is a threat late in the race here. Lutz won the south regional by nine seconds, the greatest margin of victory of all the regional meets.
Lukas Verzbicas, Sophomore, Orland Hills, IL – Easily the top underclassman in the country, Verzbicas, the midwest regional champion, set the freshman national record for two miles last year with his 8:53.98 outdoors and set a national high school record of 14:18.32 for 5000m indoors. The young Verzbicas is not only an accomplished runner but also the world junior duathlon and triathlon champion. Although he dealt with some injuries earlier in the year he looks to be rounding into fine form and ready to challenge for the win.
Brian Shrader, Senior, Flagstaff, AZ – Shrader comes down from the thin air of Flagstaff to try and cap off an undefeated season. The west regional champion took down a strong field at Mt. SAC (Individual Sweepstakes) to win the regional title after placing second there in 2008. Shrader boasts an amazing 1:52.89 (800m), 4:13.01 (1600m), 9:10.47 (3200m) triple from the 2009 Arizona state meet this spring. Shrader also comes in as the top returning runner from the 2008 meet, having placed 11th last year.
Kirubel Erassa, Senior, Loganville, GA – Ethiopia-born Erassa won the Georgia state meet and the prestigious Coach Wood Invitational, capping off an undefeated season in his home state. He ran an impressive 14:43 to place second to Lutz at the south regional meet, and comes into the national championship with the third-fastest time of the year over 5k. Plus, he’s Ethiopian!
Matt McElroy, Senior, Huntington Beach, CA – Although he placed a disappointing fourth at the west regional meet, don’t discount the senior, especially as the quasi-hometown favorite. McElroy has come close to winning on more than one occasion this year, including a second-place finish at Mt. SAC, after falling, another second at the Division II CIF meet and a third at the prestigious, early-season, Woodbridge Invitational. McElroy boasts a blazing 14:42 5k mark from September, the second fastest in the nation, and has an equally impressive 8:56.44 3200m personal best. Probably the top dark horse bet for the weekend.
Chelsea Sveinsson, Junior, Dallas, TX – The 2008 Nike Cross Country National champion and fourth-place finisher at Foot Locker decided to focus solely on winning in San Diego in 2009. Sveinsson boasts impressive track personal bests, including 10:04.85 two miles and 4:18.13 for 1500m, and an unblemished 2009 season in both track and cross country. Although injured early in the season, she won the south regional by 16 seconds and looks primed to contend.
Aisling Cuffe, Junior, Cornwall on Hudson, NY – After absolutely demolishing the competition, and course record, at the northeast regional, Cuffe is certainly a favorite for the weekend. She won her regional meet by more than 45 seconds and holds titles from the New York state meet and the Eastern States Invitational. Cuffe ran 16:43.58 for 5000m on the track this spring and captured silver at the Pan American Games in the same event.
Molly Grabill, Sophomore, Poway, CA – One of two hometown favorites, the San Diegan is undefeated on the season, including titles at Mt. SAC (Individual Sweepstakes), Stanford and the Division 1 CIF meet. She boasts a freshman personal best on the track of 10:23.75 over 3200m. She won the west regional by five seconds over Megan Morgan, another San Diego contender whom she faced off against, and defeated, multiple times during the season. Grabill missed the meet last year with a late-season injury and is more than ready to make up for that.
Megan Goethals, Senior, Rochester, MI - Goethals is the top returning finisher from 2008, having placed third last year. A now two-time midwest regional champion, Goethals comes into the meet undefeated on the season. Track credentials are impressive for the senior, which include 10:20.25 for two miles and 4:47.04 over 1600m. She was runner-up (to Sveinsson) at Nike Outdoor Nationals in both the mile and two miles and will join the three other regional winners as the clear-cut favorites in San Diego.
Megan Morgan, Senior, Del Mar, CA – Our dark horse pick for the meet, Morgan is unquestionably the most accomplished runner-up from the regional meets. She lost by five seconds to Grabill at the west regional, but took home a dominating win at the Mt. SAC Invitiational, albeit in the Team Sweepstakes race. Undefeated in competitions that did not feature her fellow San Diegan Grabill, Morgan looks to improve upon a disappointing 24th-place finish at Foot Locker in 2008. She ventured into the world of mountain running this year and earned a silver medal at the world junior championships.