Strong winds and frigid temperatures were in store for the nation’s best high school runners.
By Chris Lotsbom
(c) Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.
At a cold, windy Portland Meadows Race Track in Portland, Ore., the seventh annual Nike Cross Nationals (NXN) were held on Saturday to crown the top teams in American high school cross country, with additional bragging rights on the line for the individual winners. With the temperatures dropping and a gusty wind blowing around 20 MPH (32 KPH), the muddy course made for classic from-the-gut racing.
The boys race had a star-studded field, with defending individual NXN champion Craig Lutz, 2009 Foot Locker Cross Country champion Lukas Verzbicas, and Bowdoin (N.Y.) course record holder Jim Rosa all competing. Adding to the competitive mix was California’s Ammar Moussa and Elias Gedyon, plus New Jersey’s Ed Cheserek, all of whom had to be considered contenders for the individual titles.
After the cannon fired, a lead pack of five separated themselves from the rest of the field. Cheserek, born in Kenya but currently living in New Jersey, joined Lutz, Verzbicas and Moussa at front, going through 2K in 6:11 and 3 km in 9:26. After the 3K mark, Verzbicas, an elite junior triathlete, showed why he was the Foot Locker champion last year. He injected a quick pick-up, creating a slight gap in front of Lutz and Cheserek going over the “whoop-de-doos.” Making it look easy despite getting a spike wound, Verzbicas prevailed comfortably in 15:59.2.
“This is definitely the top of the top. I am very relieved to have won this,” he said on the live webcast hosted by RunnerSpace.com. “Right at the start I got boxed in pretty bad, but then I went with the leaders.”
Lutz, who is bound for the University of Texas, made a hard effort to clinch second place in the final 1000 meters, but was out-kicked by Cheserek, 16:01.5 to 16:04.4. Moussa finished fourth in 16:16.3.
In the team competition, it was Arcadia (Calif.), led by Moussa (4th), Eric Garibay (35t h) and Sergio Gonzales (39th), which became the first team ever from California to earn the NXN championship, scoring 92 points. Behind them was Manlius XC (Fayetteville-Manlius, N.Y.) in second with 135, and Columbus XC (Indiana) in third (165).
In the girls race, two harriers broke away from the field very quickly. Junior Christie Rutledge of Manlius XC (Fayetteville-Manlius, N.Y.), running in her first Nike Cross Nationals, took the early lead. Rutledge, the New York Class AA Champion, kept Plano, Texas’s Rachel Johnson three meters back. In her intimidating black and gold singlet, Rutledge kept the gap consistent, hitting the 3K mark in 10:45.42, with Johnson just a fraction of a second behind. By this point, the two were ten seconds ahead of the rest of the field.
Johnson, who hadn’t lost a meet all season until the Foot Locker South Regional last week, seemed content staying behind, biding her time in order to set up for her final kick. Neck-and-neck over a set of hay bales at 4K, Johnson finally felt it was time to move, taking the lead for the first and final time. Pumping her arms fiercely, she crested the final hill with a small gap, and never let up, going on to win the final race of her high school cross country career in a time of 18:16.6. Rutledge was second (18:21.4), while Amy Eloise-Neale (Northwest-2) finished a distant third (18:48.8).
“I was just really excited,” said the champion Johnson. “I trained harder this year, and I feel I was in better shape than last year” (when she finished sixth).
“I just tried to stay on [Rutledge's] shoulder,” she continued. “I was aiming to stay up with the front runners, and then make a move in the last mile.”
In the team competition, Manlius XC (Fayetteville-Manlius, N.Y.) simply ran away with the title, scoring only 27 points. Their score was about half the previous NXN record for lowest team score of 51 points. With five in the top twelve, and all seven in the top 30, the Manlius girls won their fifth national title in a row. Coached by Bill Aris, the Manlius girls are on the verge of becoming a dynasty in high school cross country.
Second place went to Manlius’s New York rivals, Kinetic XC (Saratoga Springs, N.Y.) with 104 points. Their best finisher was Taylor Driscoll in 35th place.