Sophomore Anna Rohrer wins girls race in 17:25.
SAN DIEGO — Before the starter’s pistol fired at boys race at the Footlocker Cross Country Championships on Saturday morning, all eyes were on reigning national champion Edward Cheserek of Newark, New Jersey. Some 14 minutes and 59 seconds later, Cheserek remained the focus of everyone’s attention as he broke the finishing tape at historic Morley Field to capture his second straight national title.
Using his trademark kick to his full advantage, Cheserek blitzed the final tenth of a mile to the finish line in 29 seconds, holding off second-place finisher Sean McGorty of Virginia, who crossed the finish line in 15:05.
“I wasn’t even trying to move with those guys,” Cheserek said of his sit-and-kick strategy. ”I wanted to stay back with those guys and at the last minute kick because that was my strategy.”
After an opening 400 meters of 64 seconds, a large pack remained together heading into the major hill just past the mile mark, passed in 4:44. Cheserek sat comfortably behind McGorty, Jake Leingang (3rd place, 15:07) of Bismark, North Dakota, and eventual fourth-place finisher Sam Wharton (15:19) of Tipp City, Ohio, as the field began to string out behind them. Not much changed through 2 miles, reached in 9:45, with McGorty still leading and Cheserek, Wharton and Leingang all in tow. Approaching the back half of the two-loop course for the last time, McGorty tried to break away with half a mile to go but Cheserek was having none of it. McGorty led up the final hill toward Upas Street before Cheserek went to work, blitzing the downhill that followed to open up a small gap and take the lead for the first time. Cheserek continued to pull away over the final 500 meters, becoming the fourth boy in Footlocker history to win back to back national titles. Lukas Verzbicas was the last to do so in 2009 and 2010.
“To come and defend my title again is great,” said Cheserek, who is undefeated over the past two seasons. “For me it’s really something special to be national champion twice.”
In the girls race, youth was served by 15-year-old Anna Rohrer of Mishawaka, Indiana. The sophomore from Mishawaka High School tripped and went down in the first 400 meters of the race, but picked herself back up and moved through the field, pulling away over the final mile to win her first national championship in 17:25.
“I just got up and made sure to keep a level head,” Rohrer said after the fall. “I knew the pace would slow up in a little bit. I just stayed patient.”
Catarina Rocha, a senior at Peabody Veteran’s Memorial High School in Peabody Massachusetts, finished second in 17:29, while Maria Hauger, a senior at Shakopee High School in Minnesota took third in 17:30, edging out Jordyn Colter of Centennial, Colorado at the finish line.
The race went out fast, with an excited Marissa Williams of Los Angeles (8th, 17:43) taking the race through 400 meters in swift 66 seconds. Things settled down by the mile mark heading into the back half of loop one, as a group of six remained intact at 5:17, with Rohrer gaining ground only a few strides behind. She rejoined the lead pack just after the steep downhill on Upas Street and was in control of the race by the 2-mile mark (11:11) when she began her push to the finish line. Hitting the 3-mile marker in 16:50, Rohrer was clear of the battle for second behind her, and became the first sophomore to win this race since 2006, when Kathy Kroeger ran 17:29 to turn the trick.