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, Fayetteville-Manlius NY looks like the favorite to win their seventh national title in a row. They suffered their first loss in a while at Manhattan in October, but that was their first invite of the season and they were without Jillian Fanning. Now at full strength, they’ve won the New York A State title and NXN-New York. Add in the program’s history of going out hard and of running well in muddy conditions, and there are a lot of reasons to believe the Stotans have another title in them.
After the Stotans there is a long line of teams that should challenge for a spot on the podium. On paper, Southlake Carroll TX would seem to have the edge, but not an insurmountable one. Saratoga Springs NY is a long storied program that has only continued that in the past five years. Fort Collins CO has been as good as anyone at running their best at NXN. Great Oak CA is a very strong team who had no problems dominating the ever-deep California region. Pennsbury PA has looked very strong over the past month and a half. With their win at Manhattan, Tatnall DE is the only team to beat Fayetteville-Manlius in several years. Carmel IN finished fifth last year and enter the meet undefeated. Davis UT has claims to being one of the best teams the always-strong Southwest has ever seen. New Trier IL finished fourth last year, Naperville North IL has looked very strong all year and has beaten New Trier twice, Assumption KY has gone undefeated including wins over both Saratoga and Tatnall at Great American, Coeur d’Alene ID has gone undefeated in traditional scoring and looks like the best team the Northwest has produced, and Pine Creek CO finished nearly even with Fort Collins in every race they’ve met while at full strength. All of those teams seem to have a chance to stand on the podium, but some will finish outside of the top half of the standings.
The Girls Individual field looks to be the strongest ever assembled.
Sarah Baxter (Simi Valley CA junior) is the defending champion and has been shattering course records all year, including running 16:00 at the venerable Mt. SAC (2.93 mile course) and 16:39.7 while “taking it easy” at the California State meet at Woodward Park, a course that has also seen its share of all time greats as the former home to the Footlocker West regional in addition to the state meet course for many years. As Baxter has been more of a strength runner and history of running away from strong competition, it’s not likely that the mud will slow her down to significantly but she is far from having the title in her hands against a field this strong.
Amy-Eloise Neale (Glacier Peak WA senior) is the fourth returner from last year after finishing fifth, but also finished third in the muddy 2010 race (making her the top returner from that field) and, like Baxter, has been shattering course records all year by running away from strong competition. With a history of doing well at track events of all distance AND on tough cross country courses, it would seem Neale has a good mix of both strength and speed that is hard to match, a factor that could work in her favor as she tries to unseat the defending champion and hold off the other strong challengers.
Mary Cain (Unattached NY junior) has made a great name for herself on the track, breaking Jordan Hasay’s record in the 1500m and running great times in the 800m as well. She has also done pretty well in cross country, running the #9 All-Time mark for high schoolers at Van Cortland Park and winning the ever-tough NXN-NY regional at Bowdoin. However, there is no getting around the fact that her greatest strength is her speed and finishing kick, and it might be more of a challenge to stick with strength-oriented front runners like Baxter and Neale that have had better finishes at NXN in the past. Cain finished sixth last year, making her the fifth returner, and if she is in the mix coming down the last straight she can pull out the win against this incredible field.
Hagan Reedy (Buchanan CA senior) finished seventh last year, making her the sixth returner in the field. A strength runner, Reedy finished second to Baxter twice (Woodbridge and State), but has gone otherwise undefeated this year.
Katie Knight (North Central WA senior) is a strength runner that always seems to run well at NXN. Finishing third last year, she is the second returner and also finished eighth in 2010 (third returner to Neale and Fanning). Her only losses this year have been to Neale at WA State, NXN-Northwest and BorderClash, as well as Alexa Efraimson on the 4.4k BorderClash.
Alexa Efraimson (Camas WA sophomore) is a speed runner though she has run very well in cross country this year. Efraimson ran 4:42 at the Adidas Mile race as a freshman this summer, and narrowly lost to Neale for the 800m State, but it was her wins over runners like Jordyn Colter and Katie Knight, as well as her 14 place finish at NXN last year that puts her in position to finish well this weekend. She is the ninth returner from last year.
Madeline Perez (Glenbard West IL junior) destroyed the course record at Detweiller, the Illinois 3 mile speedway and state championship course. She followed that up with a second place finish at NXN-Midwest to Ashley Erba, one of the top runners in the nation who after declining the NXN invite and a poor race at FLMW is unfortunately done for the year. Perez did not compete at NXN last year.
Isabella Burda (Arlington NY sophomore) won the always-challenging New York Federations race as well finishing second to Cain at the NXN-New York race. This will be her first HS national cross country race.
Maria Hauger (Shakopee MN senior) was 24 at NXN last year before finishing 21 at FLN. She has only lost two races this year – an early-season showdown with NXN-HL runner-up Clare Flanagan, and a third place finish at FLMW to Anna Rohrer and Taylor Werner, who she beat at NXN-HL the week before – and has thrown down numerous fast times throughout the year.
Elise Cranny (Niwot CO junior) won the Colorado State meet and NXN-Southwest meet, two of the better meets in the nation. She finished fifth at Stanford in September, though the top two at that meet were NXN Top-6 favorites Amy-Eloise Neale and Alexa Efraimson, while the next two (Jordyn Colter and Julia Maxwell) are competing at Footlocker instead. Cranny has also clearly made some improvement in that time, as she ran 17:36 at Stanford but 16:59 at NXN-Southwest. Cranny is the #16 returner after finishing 29 last year.
Karis Jochen (A&M Consolidated TX senior) finished just behind Cranny at 31 last year, making her the #17 returner. She also finished 12 at Footlocker Nationals last fall. Jochen has only been beaten once this year, narrowly losing to Sophie Chase at the Footlocker South meet last week.
Katie Rainsberger (Air Academy CO freshman) has come on strong at the end of the season, but suffered earlier season losses to Erin Hooker and Heather Bates at the Titan Thunder Invite in September, though beat both in finishing second at NXN-Southwest. Rainsberger was a close second to Cranny at State, losing by one tenth of a second.
Heather Bates (Pine Creek CO senior) thoroughly dominated the ever-strong Colorado 5A State meet, winning by 43.4 seconds while favorites Jordyn Colter and Erin Hooker fell off from a strong early pace. Bates slipped to third at NXN-Southwest though, and will have to beat one or both of those runners to claim a top ten finish in Portland this year.
Other contenders include but are not limited to Wesley Frazier (Unattached NC senior), Taylor Werner (Sainte Genevieve MO freshman), Sandie Raines (Kingwood TX senior), Elle Purrier (Richfield VT senior), Courtney Ackerman (New Trier IL senior), Clare Flanagan (Blake School MN junior), Alli Cash (Shawnee Mission West KS senior) and Taylor Driscoll (Saratoga Springs NY senior).