Originally, I was going to post specific predictions as to who would finish where, but I figured since I already posted the more objective projections I’ll just write up a preview for the meet instead.
In the team race, there four teams look to be clearly in the mix for the NXN championship as well as possibly the title of best team of all time, while several others might surprise for a podium finish.
North Central WA is probably feeling pretty confident, knowing that they won one of the toughest state qualifying meets around, one of the toughest state meets around, and one of the toughest regional meets around all without their #1 runner, who they will be welcoming back just in time for the national championship. Add to that the fact that they’ve been the best program in the nation over the past five years, and that they ran pretty well here last time the course was in muddy conditions (2010), and it seems like there is plenty of reason to like North Central as the first multi-time national champion.
Southlake Carroll TX barely missed out on the title last year, returned the vast majority from that squad and have not lost a meet this year while looking very impressive at times. They also got out very well at nationals last year, leading the scoring by a very significant amount at the half mile mark – a tactic that can be very helpful in muddy conditions as are expected this Saturday. The big question is how close their #5 runner can be here, as that has been the question all along and in a meet of this quality you probably won’t win without one of the best #5’s in the field.
Christian Brothers NJ are looking not only to be the first multi-time national champion on the boys side, but the first back-to-back winner on the boys side. So far, they’ve done nothing but win every meet they’ve entered, including a few against teams that are in the field here at NXN. They are a strong pack team, but they haven’t looked as strong the last few weeks – but then again, they haven’t needed to as they won a strong NXN regional and used the #6-10 runners to win the New Jersey Meet of Champions after using their varsity the week earlier to cruise to the New Jersey Non-Public A group championship in what seemed like a workout.
American Fork UT hasn’t had much success when it comes to running well at the national meet, but once again they enter the meet as one of the strongest teams in the field after an incredible race at NXN-Southwest following one of the strongest state meets back in October. If they run their best, they can finally bring home a national title.
Arcadia CA won the meet last time there was muddy conditions, and ran their best race of the season at the California State meet last week, showing they are at their best when it counts. If they can take that performance just one step further, it seems likely that they can finish in the top four for the third year in a row – a feat that no other boys team has accomplished in NTN/NXN history.
York IL is sporting one of their strongest teams to date, which is saying a lot considering the history of the program, but it all comes down to how big of a gap they have from their top four to their #5 runner. With five guys running well, expect the Dukes to be in contention for a podium finish.
Fayetteville-Manlius NY has always run well in poor conditions at NXN, which makes this team a dangerous team once again. Their top runner might very well win the individual title, and with one of the better #2 runners in the field, their scoring is already expected to start off on the right foot. With strong races from their #3-5, don’t be surprised if the Stotans can pull off another surprise podium finish.
Davis UT finished third here last year as they ran by far their best race of the year. If they peak so well here again, the Darts could find themselves on the podium for the second year in a row, though this year’s field looks stronger than ever by a pretty good amount.
Individually, there are ten runners I’d like to note.
Nick Ryan (Fayetteville-Manlius NY senior) is the top returner from the meet last year and has only been beaten by US#1 Edward Cheserek at the Manhattan Invitational in October. Beyond that, he’s been setting course records and has a history of running well from the front, which will likely aid him in his efforts in the muddy conditions that will be seen tomorrow.
Jake Leingang (Bismarck ND senior) is the second returner and has been undefeated so far this season, including both races where he has run away from strong competition (NXN-HL) and races where he has had to dig down with a strong finish to hold off other national caliber athletes (Griak and FLMW).
Bernie Montoya (Cibola AZ senior) is the third returner and has also been undefeated so far this season. One of the big question marks this weekend is how well Montoya will handle the muddy conditions, as being from Arizona means the mud will be a bit unfamiliar territory, and will also negate possibly his strongest advantages (a ferocious kick).
Joe Hardy (Seattle Prep WA junior) has been beaten twice this year: once against North Central WA’s Kai Wilmot at the Richland Invite, and once against Squalicum WA’s Patrick Gibson at the 4.4k BorderClash meet three weeks ago. Still, the junior has one of the best 3200m and 5k times to his credit and also has been setting some very strong course records, including blazing a 15:03 at the Bob Firman invite over several of the competitors in the field, including Wilmot and Park City UT’s Ben Saarel (NXN-SW runner-up who nearly held on to beat Montoya).
Samuel Wharton (Tippecanoe OH senior) was edged by Leingang at the FLMW race after making a tactical mistake the week before to lose at NXN-MW. Wharton is the fifth returner from last year, and has been better in cross country than he has been in track, suggesting he might be more of a strength runner than a speed guy – which would be very helpful in muddy conditions.
Luis Martinez (Cleveland NM senior) has only one loss to his name this year, a third place finish at the NXN-Southwest meet. A top-30 finisher last year, Martinez is the seventh best returner and just as is the case with Wharton appears to be more of a strength runner, an advantage that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Jacob Burcham (Cabell Midland WV senior) has been an all-star on the track and though he skipped the post-state meets last fall, he finished 16 at NXN in 2010, which marks him as the best returner from the last muddy NXN (Nick Ryan was next finishing in 28, and Jake Leingang finished just outside the top 60). Burcham’s only loss this year came to Jacob Thomson in an early season meet, and since then he has set course records on some challenging courses. Burcham has a strong kick and excellent track credentials, but his races at NXN 2010 and the West Virginia State meet this fall shows he is also a pretty good strength runner, and should be in the mix for the title.
Jake Heslington (Timpanogos UT senior) has put together a great season, but has been somewhat overshadowed by other incredible runners this year. He was fourth at Bob Firman, ran the second fastest time at the Utah State meet, and finished fourth at NXN-Southwest. All those runners that have been bested him, aside from Kai Wilmot who has been sidelined by an injury, are also among the title contenders and among the best in the nation, however, so don’t be too quick to count him out of a very high finish.
Alex Riba (O’Fallon Township IL senior) won the NXN-Midwest meet over Samuel Wharton with a strong kick, but in muddy conditions he’ll have to stick with the big guns through the early and middle portions of the race to stand a chance – and he just might be able to do that. As his cross country times are better than his track marks, Riba might be another strength runner – just a reminder, that can be pretty helpful on muddy courses.
Robert Domanic (Lewisville Hebron TX senior) is probably the best Texas has to offer this year, though there is a pretty strong contingent of Texans at the meet this year. Domanic just missed qualifying NXN Nationals last year, but made Footlocker Nationals where he finished in the top 20. He got off to a slow start this season, but claimed both the Texas 5A and NXN-South titles in consecutive weekends, and also punched his return ticket to Footlocker by finishing fifth at Footlocker South last weekend, the lone boy from the Lone Star State to make FLN this year.