The mud and slop of Portland Meadows 2012 may well turn into a skating rink for Nike Cross Nationals 2013. The forecast for Saturday’s races shows a race-time temp hovering in the low to mid 20sF for 10:05a.m. girl’s championship race, only a degree or so higher for the 11:35am boy’s championship. And since it will be between 19F and 36F from now till Saturday, we may need to pull out a Zamboni to prep the course. Thankfully, it won’t be wet as no rain is in the forecast.
In the highly anticipated girl’s race, Simi Valley, California senior Sarah Baxter looks to complete her high school cross country career undefeated. She has won the last two NXNs, besting newly named USATF Youth Athlete of the Year (perhaps of the last generation) Mary Cain in 2012. Cain is now running as a pro for the Nike Oregon Project.
Baxter has been untouchable this year, and will be a prohibitive favorite on Saturday. However, there is competition, and it isn’t to be lightly regarded. Topping the list of the upset-minded is Alexa Efraimson, a Camus High School junior in Washington State who finished fourth last year, and Niwot, Colorado senior Elise Cranny, number seven in 2012.
The advent of the internet has elevated the entire U.S. high school racing scene over the last decade. Whereas the previous generation had to wait weeks if not months to receive their running magazines in the mail showing what their contemporaries were doing in other parts of the country, these days sites like Runnerspace and MileSplit have brought instant feedback to a hungry group of young racers.
Once everyone knows what everyone else is doing, they ramp up their training and expectations, almost competing against one another virtually throughout the season. Then they bring those resumes and hopes to Portland in the first week in December to see how they stack up on the Portland Meadows European style course.
This season Alexa Efraimson and Elise Cranny both took a meet title over college competition. Cranny won the 5.8K women’s race at the Rocky Mountain Shootout, while Efraimson bested NCAA D1 runner-up Emily Bates of Boise State at the Bill Dellinger Invitational. Cranny also won the Southwest NXN Regional in Gilbert, Arizona by 33-seconds, while Efraimson ran a course record 17:01 to win the 3A Washington state title.
Alexa then backed up her Washington state title with another record at the NXN Northwest Regional at Eagle Island XC Course in Boise, ID. She returns to Portland off a dominating win at the Border Clash on the Nike campus two weeks ago.
For her part, Sarah Baxter came into week seven of the season looking to better her own course record at the legendary Mt. Sac cross country course. Taking it out in 4:58 through the first mile, she posted the second fastest time ever (16:11) over the 5K layout, just behind her own 16:00 record from last year when conditions were not so warm.
Just last weekend she soloed to the second fastest time ever on the Woodward Park cross country course in Fresno in taking her fourth consecutive CIF D1 state title. Only Sara Hall (nee Bei) and Jordan Hasay had also engineered four straight CIF state titles in California high school cross country history.
Others to watch: Makena Morley, a junior from Bigfork, Montana was the NXN Northwest runner-up to Alexa Efraimson by just nine seconds…Hannah Debalsi, a sophomore out of Staples High in Connecticut ran a course record at the New England Championships, and was the youngest female runner to attend the Nike Elite running camp this summer…And Taylor Werner, a sophomore from Ste. Genevieve, Missouri arrives as the NXN Midwest Regional champion.
In team competition, Coach Bill Aris’s girls from Fayetteville-Manlius in upstate New York are going for a mind-boggling eighth straight NXN title. They return three from last year’s team, and are peaking, as always, as the days shorten. They dominated the New York NXN regional race, winning 32-88 over annual powerhouse Saratoga Springs (Kinetic XC at NXN). Annika Avery led the way for Fay-Man to a 1-3-8-9-11 finish.
John Aris, son of F-M head coach Bill Aris, told me, “The girls have been a work in progress since we lost our top girl to transfer this summer. They have made significant progress however…The girl’s race will be tighter than in prior years… Course will be drier this year, although that won’t hurt us.”
Great Oak, the Temecula, California CIF D1 champs are looking to break the California jinx at NXN. Even if they won’t like the cold temps, at least they should take to the more solid footing. Destiny Collins led Great Oak with a 3rd place finish at CIF.
Wayzata XC of Minnesota arrives as the Minnesota 2A State and NXN-Heartland Champions… Fort Collins XC of Colorado won NXN-Southwest Regional…Carmel XC from Indiana come in as the NXN-Midwest Champions… and Unionville XC twice beat Fay-Man in 2013, though a key runner has been ill lately for the Pennsylvania 3A State Champions.
In the boy’s competition, the favorite is a little less certain than the girls, but the boy who comes in with the hype is Cerake Geberkidane, a senior at Denver East High in Colorado. He won the NXN SW Regional in 15:19 by 10-seconds. Other kids were asking for his autograph afterwards. That should tell us something.
Tal Braude out of Torrey Pines High outside San Diego was something of a surprise D1 winner at last week’s CIF meet in Fresno. Timing his finish perfectly, he ran 15:02 over the Woodward Park course to hold off fast closing Estevan De La Rosa of Arcadia in 15:03. De Las Rosa was last year’s NXN National runner-up.
Nationally ranked Blake Haney out of Stockdale, Ca. finished 3rd in D1 in 15:09, though he’s had a long season, having raced internationally this summer, notching 3:44.69 finishing 5th in the 1500m at the IAAF World Youth Championships. Phillip Rocha of Arcadia backed up De La Rosa at the CIF meet in Fresno, finishing in 5th at 15:18. Arcadia will certainly be in the hunt to defend their 2012 NXN team title.
Others to consider include:
Tanner Anderson, a junior out of Spokane, Washington who is both the Washington State and NXN NW champion, never fully engaged at BorderClash, finishing 5th. He hopes to improve significantly form his 18th place finish at NXN 2012.
Mike Brannigan, a junior out of Northport, N.Y. won the N.Y. Regional race, missing the Bowdoin Park course record by just two seconds while pacing his team to a second place finish and the automatic qualifier for NXN. Great story, kid has autism and finds purpose and pleasure in the throes of hard running. There will be plenty on Saturday morning.
Obsa Ali, senior, Richfield High in Minnesota. Runner-up at NXN Heartland Region who finished 10th at NXN 2012.
California CIF D3 champ Aidan Goltra (Campolindo HS) was a big-kicking surprise winner, running the fastest of the day at Woodward Park in 15:02…David Luna out of Indio was just one second back.
No boy’s team has been able to repeat at Portland Meadows. This year Arcadia XC of California returns as defending champs (they also won in 2010). Last weekend in Fresno they won the CIF D1 title over fellow NXN qualifiers Madera South 59-88. Estevan De La Rosa and Phillip Rocha led the way going second & fourth while their team also took places 10-11-32.
New Jersey’s Lincroft XC will try again to win their second NXN title. They came in as a favorite last year and defending champs from NXN 2011. But they got caught up in the slop, never got out, and finished a disappointing 4th.
This year they are once again the N.J. Meet of Champion winners. They also won NXN Northeast Regionals without one of their top three runners, while two of their guys fell, including their #1 Mike McClemens. That said, Lincroft comes in with experience and a bad taste from 2012. They have also knocked down several course records this season, and won’t be concerned with cold weather.
John Aris, again, on Fay-Man boys: “Our boys are our strongest ever…. We averaged 16:02 at Bowdoin Park…compared to our 2004 Stotan team which averaged 16:16… Will be a good battle between Gig (WA.), Arcadia (CA.), Lincroft (N.J.) and American Fork (UT).”
You can watch the races live. I’ll be joining Rich Gonzales and 2008 NXN champion Chris Derrick for the play-by-play. Chris Solinsky and Andrew Wheating will serve as our field reporters. A host of other stars will join us, as well. Bundle up!