The top high school cross country runners in the country converged on San Diego.
Written by: Chris Lotsbom
(c) 2011 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.
The American high school cross country season came to a close Saturday at the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships in San Diego, Calif., where Edward Cheserek and Molly Seidel both won their first national high school cross country titles after breaking away late in their respective races.
Minutes into the Boy’s Championship race, the two pre-race favorites in Cheserek of New Jersey and Futsum Zeinasellassie of Indiana, had established themselves towards the front of a large, tightly bunched lead pack. Through the mile, though, a surprising leader in C.J. Albertson had made his way out front, crossing in 4:48 with a comfortable lead.
Seconds later, Cheserek and Zeinasellassie came charging to the front, battling move for move, glancing at each other repeatedly as if to say “let’s go.” Up and down the rolling hills, the two exchanged leads as they moved away from the rest of the field, close to Ruben Reina’s course record pace of 14:36.8 through halfway. Cheserek, in a blue vest representing the Northeast, and Zeinasellassie, wearing the red of the Midwest, were all alone at two miles in 9:50.
Continuing to battle side by side, the duo kept trading the lead over the final mile, first Zeinasellassie, then Cheserek, then Zeinasellassie at the front. After crossing Jacaranda Place and battling up the largest hill of the course for the final time, Zeinasellassie gained a little ground. But Cheserek responded, surging fast and into the lead once again.
On the ensuing downhill, Cheserek maintained his lead by a half meter. With 400 meters to go, the Kenyan from Newark, N.J., was still powering, occasionally glancing over his shoulder to check on Zeinasellassie. Just off of the leader’s left shoulder, Zeinasellassie tried to sneak by, taking a wider turn than his counterpart.
But Cheserek would have nothing of it. Fending off a late charge was Cheserek, who completed his undefeated cross country campaign of 2011 with a 14:51.5 win.
“We stayed together and when we came down the second hill, I knew I could make it,” said the quiet Cheserek in the post-race webcast interview. Only a junior, Cheserek attends St. Benedict’s High School.
Zeinasellassie finished less than a second behind in 14:52.1. “Every time Cheserek threw a surge, I wanted to respond and go with him,” said Zeinasellassie, who lists Meb Keflezighi as the person he would most like to meet.
Though Cheserek and Zeinasellassie only met for the first time on Thursday, the latter says both have become fast friends.
“I am proud of him and will be following him every week,” he said.
To begin the Girl’s Championship race, Erin Finn, a junior from West Bloomfield, Mich., took the pace out very hard early, creating a large gap back to the rest of the 40-girl field.
Leading all alone through the mile in 5:21, Finn, who finished seventh a year ago, kept lengthening her lead. As she began her first ascent of the largest hill on the course, Finn was still by herself. Reaching the top, the leader gave a brief look back to see where the rest of the group was (far behind).
With close to a ten-second gap on the field, Finn, an all-American both on the track and in cross country, began the second loop of the five kilometer course all alone. Behind, Molly Seidel had broken away from the chase pack, trying to chip away at her Midwestern teammate’s lead.
As Finn crossed two miles in 11:08, Seidel was now clearly in the picture, cutting the deficit to five seconds. Both wearing red vests representing their region, the two soon were within meters of each other. Another glance back and Finn saw she had company. It was now a two-girl race.
Heading up the largest hill of the course for the second and final time, the two were side by side. Passing on Finn’s right shoulder midway up the hill, Seidel took the lead for the first time. The senior from Hartland, Wisc., immediately created a small gap.
But Finn wasn’t going to fade away completely. Regrouping, she caught up to Seidel using the large downhill with 600m to go, a second wind having taken over.
“When Erin rocketed past me on the downhill, I was definitely getting nervous,” Seidel said in the post-race interview.
Seidel was ready to react to the move though; with a quarter mile to go, the senior made the final pass on the last uphill before the finish.
Hitting the three mile mark in 16:47, Seidel was relying on her 4:46 mile speed to kick away from Finn, who has run 4:58 for 1600m. With the finish in sight, Seidel kept moving, crossing the line with her hands high in 17:21.4. Two seconds behind was Finn in 17:23.9, with Laura Leff of New York rounding out the top ten in 17:33.9.
“I knew there was an uphill with 400 meters remaining, and I used that to my advantage,” said Seidel in the post-race webcast interview. “I was definitely getting a bit nervous when Erin went out so fast.”
Finn was happy finishing second. “I wanted top five [coming in], but I really didn’t think I could get top three, which was my ultimate goal,” she said. “Second is really good, so I am pretty happy with it.”